• Creek Jane Rhiannon and Amy

    Volume 7 – Live Preview, Volume 8 Drops on March 20th

    Feb 5 • Locations • 1111 Views

    The Climbing Zine is now available on Kindle and in print. Volume 7: dirtbags, crag dogs, hyenas, and free solos features a line up of some of the best voices in rock climbing culture.

    Volume 8, “The Old School” issue, will be released on March 20th, for the printed version, and slightly before for the Kindle version. Banner photo is our cover shot by the talented Amy Lipschultz.

    Check out the live preview for Volume 7. 

    Here’s a look at our authors this time: Gaelen Engler, Chris Kalman, Brendan Leonard, Becca Skinner, Jason Haas, Courtney Ott, D Scott Borden, Alexa Flower, Drew Thayer, Al Smith III, and Luke Mehall.

    Becca Skinner's grandfather, Bob Skinner climbing in the Cathedrals in Yosemite in the 1950s. Becca writes about life in a climbing family, in her essay, "Growing Up Skinner". Photo: Skinner Family Collection

    Becca Skinner’s grandfather, Bob Skinner climbing in the Cathedrals in Yosemite in the 1950s. Becca writes about life in a climbing family, in her essay, “Growing Up Skinner”. Photo: Skinner Family Collection

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    The Climbing Zine, Volume 7, full color with art print version, $9.99.

    The Climbing Zine, Volume 7 on Kindle for $2.99.

    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. You can now subscribe to The Climbing Zine as well!  We have also published two books: The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • Lady Stoke – A Rockumentary

    Feb 1 • Dirtbagging • 284 Views

    This month, we learned that two of our contributors, Amy Lipschultz and Rhiannon Williams launched a Kickstarter campaign for their upcoming film project, Lady Stoke, A Rockumentary. 

    I had the pleasure of climbing with these two in Indian Creek this fall, and they completely embody what is means to a modern lady crusher. Here’s some words from Rhiannon about the project, and how you can support them, and get some her fantastic artwork in the process. -LM 

    We are ready. We’re ready to get scared, to try hard, to fail and to push ourselves beyond the limits that we, as women, are perceived to be bound by. By creating a documentary, as women, about women, we hope to make a statement to the greater climbing community.

    by Rhiannon Williams 

    There is an inadequate representation of females in climbing media, and even less representation when it comes to filmmaking and offering a female perspective in adventure film. Our hope is that through documenting our story, interviewing other women, and creating a dialogue about the barriers women face in the sport, we’ll spark a bigger conversation in the climbing community and inspire other women to get out and climb.

    Amy and I met at an orientation for wilderness therapy work several years ago and instantly became dedicated climbing partners. We have spent the past few years seeking rock and feeding our appetites for fresh air, dirty feet, and limitless views. From bouldering in the Buttermilks, trad climbing in Yosemite, and doing the first female ascent of “Richness of It All” in Snow Canyon, we are continuously  seeking out challenging routes and adventures. In our work as wilderness therapy instructors and through our climbing endeavors, we’ve seen the effect that the unequal presence of women in the wilderness has on the female psyche. This observation fueled a desire to make a documentary about our experience as female climbers.

    The author on Supercrack, Indian Creek, Utah. Photo: Amy Lipschultz

    The author on Supercrack, Indian Creek, Utah. Photo: Amy Lipschultz

    When we started talking about this climbing trip, a lot of people started reaching out and expressing that our goals were inspiring. We thought, well, why not share this with a larger audience? Already, with the launching of this project, we have had so many e-mails from females who are excited about what we’re doing. This is what it’s about. This is what gets us excited. This is why we’re doing what we’re doing. And while we love watching grizzled men grunting over boulders and scaling monstrous routes, we’ve seen for ourselves that women, too, can grunt and scale.

    Our plan is to travel to some of the best climbing areas in the world, from sport climbing on limestone in Spain to putting up first ascents on splitter cracks in China, and document our adventure and conversations along the way.  We have destinations, characters, and a cause we feel passionate about, and we believe that over the course of a year the story will unfold for itself.

    Your donations will help us to buy camera equipment and editing software, pay for transportation/time for those helping us with footage, support our travels, and spread the lady stoke. We will be going on this trip either way, but we are hoping to empower others through documentation of the trip.

    In case you didn’t click on the trailer first, it’s here. 

    Contact: Rhiannon Williams: rhiannonklee@gmail.com

    Rhiannon Williams is a new contributor to The Climbing Zine, and designed the back cover for our upcoming issue. We look forward to many years of collaborating together and can’t wait for the new Rockumentary. More of her art work can be found at her personal website. 

    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 two books: The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

     

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  • rasta wig

    Rasta, A Wise and Crafty Crag Dog by D Scott Borden

    Jan 20 • Locations • 967 Views

    Editor’s note: Longtime Climbing Zine contributor D Scott Borden wrote this piece for Volume 7, and sadly as the Zine was going to press Rasta passed away. Our thoughts are with you and your family at this time Scott. Thanks for such an inspiring piece! -LM

    We have all seen some cray-cray stuff when it comes to pets at the climbing crag. Like the time I was passed on the seventh pitch of Half Dome’s Snake Dike by Dean Potter short roping his little dog behind him as he soloed the route. Or the lady that brings her cat on a leash to the boulders and sends V7 while that fur ball watches disapprovingly. (Why are they always so hard to please?) Or the dog that ran off in Utah’s deserts and when hope was lost she returned 12 days later without a scratch. Or the time I saw a guy with an eye patch and a parrot on his shoulder crushing 5.13 cracks in Indian Creek. (Though come to think of it, it may have been Halloween.) However, none tickle my biscuit better than the story of Rasta Dog. Of course, being my dog, I may be a little biased.

    by D Scott Borden, Senior Contributor

    Looking to keep my relationship intact with my high school girlfriend, we decided to adopt a puppy at the local grocery store. Adopting that puppy turned out to be one of my better mistakes. A hippy with long flowing dreads had a litter of puppies and a sign that read ‘to a real home’. He had hitchhiked through the Colorado Rockies when his dog gave birth to this litter. When I first saw him, he was sitting on the local corner with a guitar singing a song that went, “They won’t let me sing my song, they won’t let me smoke my bong. They won’t let me sing my song, they won’t let me smoke my bong…”

    After the third excruciating and ear numbing time I heard this line I snatched up a puppy from the young man figuring I was saving it from the danger of dying of a patchouli oil and weed smoke overdose. The puppy was only four weeks old and fit in the palm of my hand. He was completely reliant on me for everything. Being in college and climbing every possible second, like so many young men with too much responsibility, I was in way over my head. Just for perspective: I ate a strictly vegetarian diet mostly from dumpsters around town, lived in my truck, refused to wear shoes to class, owned one pair of pants and showered once a week. I could barely take care of myself, what the heck was I going to do with this adorable dog?

    I would venture to say that thus far, this story is probably a dime a dozen. How many lost climbing dirtbags do you know that live in the back of their car and have a dog?

    Rasta Dog would go through the inevitable stages of a crag dog. Young puppy stage: where he would bark uncontrollably and annoy everyone not matter how much attention you gave him. Middle aged stage: where he would demand a good hour of stick throwing and then wander around the crag for hours alone but always end up back at the car at the end of the day just in time to head off. Old man stage: where he would be happy just to get to the crag and chill out. “What a good, cute crag dog,” everyone would say. Well, they didn’t put up with his crap for 13 years prior did they?

    I guess it wasn’t what Rasta Dog did that was story worthy, but perhaps more what he created. When I finished college I wanted to travel. So I left Rasta in the capable hands of my most responsible friend, Taryn. Now Taryn wasn’t just responsible, she was the president of the student government at our college. We had co-founded (with several other friends) an environmental group. She was an ass-kicking environmental activist with the looks to match.

    Of course, I wanted nothing to do with her romantically. She was the type of girl you take home to Mom and I was looking for the type of girl you snuggle with in the back of your truck. You know, the truck you’re living in. She was too serious for this man on the run, but she sure would take good care of the Rasta Dog.

    And so it went, she took Rasta while I travelled the world climbing and after a while I came back to the same town. Rasta and I were reunited and she noticed how happy he was to see me. She asked if I would take him back since we seemed so content. So I did and after a while I got that wandering itch again and pleaded to give him back. She obliged and I headed to climb internationally again. It was then that we made an agreement that whoever was most stable would take the dog. At that pivotal moment the three of us became a pack, separated only by distance.

    Four years later, Taryn called me on the verge of tears. I was living and working in Yosemite National Park and she needed to give Rasta up because her work required her to travel constantly. I agreed and we made plans to exchange him. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, she changed her mind. She decided her lifestyle was unsustainable and that Rasta was the only thing stable. I knew that feeling all too well and could appreciate her reluctance. In the meantime, she needed to go to Saudi Arabia for some work and needed someone to watch him, so I happily volunteered.

    She came to drop him off and we talked about times of old and new. We walked in the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias and when we got to the Kissing Trees (two trees that intertwine to unimaginable heights) I leaned in and kissed her.

    I wasn’t sure what I was doing but I knew I was no longer afraid of her grown up demeanor. I knew she was everything right in the world and I wanted to be a part of it. I was no longer the young dirtbag and Rasta was no longer the young puppy. Our pack had grown up.

    Rasta's dream come true.

    Rasta’s dream come true.

    Two years later we were wed in the Big Meadow of Yosemite National Park. The story of how Rasta created a perfect ‘parent trap’ was told during the ceremony and he was the official ring bearer. When Taryn and I were announced as partners he barked loudly as everyone clapped and laughed at what could only be described as Rasta’s abundant joy. We have since moved to the United Kingdom, and of course Rasta flew here with us. As we anticipate the birth of our first child, Rasta sits at our feet (now 14) and seems very content with the new addition to our pack. Since the pack was reunited, whenever we go climbing he sits quietly at the crag with an odd look of contentment.

    As if……maybe……just maybe, he was planning this union the whole time. While we will never know his true intentions, one thing I am sure of is that he is truly a wise and crafty crag dog, if I’ve ever met one.

    The Climbing Zine Volume 7, (Dirtbags, Crag Dogs, Hyenas, and Free Solos) is available on Kindle and in print.

     Scott Borden lives in South West England with his wife Taryn (and newborn Makai). He is currently working towards his PhD studying eco-tourism and water conservation at The University of Exeter, School of Business in London, England. He has been contributing to The Climbing Zine since our very first issue. Since moving to England he now uses phrases like “tickle my biscuit”.

    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 two books: The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

     

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    Climbing In The City of Fountains by Allen Schaidle

    Jan 19 • Locations • 363 Views

    Kansas City is situated in the navel of the United States surrounded by rolling hills, which make for beautiful ever-lasting sunsets, but sadly, they don’t produce ideal features for notable hard sends. Secretly, tucked away in the gut of the city, concealed in the shadows of the towering skyline, resides two crags: Cliff Drive and Swope Park. Both of which have continuously fed the appetite of rock-depraved prairie crushers with limestone for decades.

    by Allen Kenneth Schaidle (banner photo by Daniel Siegal) 

    Typically, people travel to KC for BBQ, rarely for climbing. You won’t open Rock & Ice or Climbing to read about cutting-edge 5.15s established by Chris Sharma, but what’s occurring is special and illustrates a community of climbers devoted to testing their skills in their own backyard.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    Photo: Daniel Siegal

    Look, I’m not arguing KC’s climbing scene rivals Boulder, but it does offer some notable climbs and has a tribe invested in their hometown. Hell, the City of Fountains has even produced noteworthy climbers like Meridian Line founder, first ascent guru, and adventure artist Jeremy Collins as well as rising name Ryan Surface who in 2015 individually placed third and second in the team score at 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell.

    Similar to other Midwest crags, it’s best to avoid climbing in the dead of winter or summer. Driving in KC after a heavy snowfall is like foreshadowing the traffic anarchy one might imagine during the apocalypse. On the other hand, the heat during summers is so intense I’ve personally witnessed people collapse because of heat exhaustion. Regardless, if the weather breaks, expect to find climbers squeezing in a session.

    Midwest (MO3)

    KC climbers are tough. They’ll climb in miserable conditions for the pure enjoyment of having somewhere to climb nearby and won’t utter a single compliant. Moreover, they’ll organize motor-barricades for the extended drives to such climbing meccas as Horseshoe Canyon, Jackson Falls in Southern Illinois, and even sojourn to Colorado, just for a weekend trip. But no matter what, they always return to their local crags, trying new climbs while kindling the local psyche, despite its neglect in the national or even regional attention.

    As KC’s only roped crag, Cliff Drive is something of a day-session dream, but don’t worry, you can also spend multiple sessions here without getting bored. The majority of climbs at Cliff Drive are under 50 feet, requiring only one rope for a day’s fun with the majority of grades 5.10 or harder. A mixture of moderate climbs combined with a ridiculously relaxed approach, makes Cliff Drive a popular destination for KC climbers. On a nice weekday evening or weekend, you’ll find climbers scrambling up their favorite routes like Chomping the Bit graded 5.10a, trashing skin on new projects, or training for bigger walls out West. Before perfect conditions settle out on monolithic walls, like Yosemite, the walls of Cliff Drive host practice grounds for mastering aid climbing. Thanks to recent efforts on behalf of the Kansas City Climbing Community (KCCC), Cliff Drive received a major face-lift. KCCC rallied together in ridding the area of trash while restoring the overall eco-friendliness of the spot. They replaced questionable rusted chains with trusty new ones, constructed retaining walls, and cleared the belaying zone to minimize safety concerns.

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    Not only is KC’s economy rejuvenated thanks to companies like Google Fiber and Garmin taking up permanent residence, so is the bouldering. Swope’s bouldering resurgence parallels the history of the Royals. At one time, Swope’s bouldering scene was hot with new problems, but then steadily slipped into a cold spell. Mirroring the recent success of the Royals, Swope’s bouldering has also received fresh attention.

    My involvement with Swope’s bouldering scene started while attending the University of Kansas in nearby Lawrence, Kansas. After purchasing a worn copy of Sean Burns’ Missouri Limestone Select, I started solo day trips. After hearing of new zones along Blue River Rd., I convinced two other local boulderers, Matt Lancaster and Mary Kate Meara, to accompany me. Both KC natives were hesitant because of Swope’s formerly sketchy reputation. Along with the likes of KC good ol’ boy Beck Johnson, we quickly discovered KC bouldering was in an era of rebirth. Old and new areas started receiving attention, such as the Fireman’s Memorial featuring KC’s only known cave bouldering, pockets along Blue River Rd. including the KC test piece the Last Rhino, Lake of the Woods boulder among the proudest lines, and some of the hardest/newest climbs residing along Oldham Rd.

    The majority of the boulders are rough limestone blocks, lending themselves to short and unique features I haven’t encountered elsewhere. After a long day of climbing you can crush some infamous KC BBQ, but Matt Lancaster and I swear by Jamdown Kitchen, just outside of park, as the best post-send meal and arguably the best Jamaican cuisine stateside.

    Next time you’re passing through KC, stop by and try a route or two. Natural climbing in a heart of a major American city is a irreplaceable experience. While I had to sadly leave KC for the time being, I know the community still thrives or as KC rapper, Tech N9ne, put it, “Thinkin’ they can stop the heart of the Kansas City, but the heart of Kansas City is beatin’.”

    This is Allen Kenneth Schaidle’s first piece for The Climbing Zine.

    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 two books: The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

     

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    Review: Beal Cocoon Chalk Bag

    Jan 19 • Gear • 153 Views

    How much is there to say about a chalk bag? All it has to do is hang out back there and have that powdery gold ready for your sweaty, trembling fingers…and not fall off mid-way up a route…and not spill all over the tiny ledge you’re belaying on, or the gym floor.

    Reviewed by Drew Thayer, Senior Contributor 

    So it turns out the ideal chalk bag is more than just a Ziploc affixed with duct-tape to a shoelace (although I’ve watched hard routes go down in this style). In my experience, I only notice my chalk bag if it does something it shouldn’t, like fall off or spill or remain soaking wet for days. I solve the first problem by tying mine around my waist with 6mm cord, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Beal’s innovative solution to the second issue.

    I’m always excited when someone thinks outside the box and develops a new solution. I never thought anyone was thinking critically about engineering chalk bags, but Beal came up with an intriguing way to open and close a bag more efficiently: rather than closing with a drawstring and toggle like virtually every other bag on the market (even those “after-market” Crown Royal sacks), the whole mouth of this bag snaps shut in an instant.

    Th

    This patented ‘Clic-Clac’ action bag is really easy to use. I get to the belay, build an anchor, and reach behind to snap the bag shut before I sit down or lay back against the wall. The action is really quick, and the inch-wide interface seals perfectly. Ever drop something on your chalk bag in the car or on your girlfriend’s couch and it erupts like a powdery geyser from the pinhole at the center of the drawstring? White dust everywhere? I hate that. It doesn’t happen with this bag.

    I wondered if the bag could snap shut by itself, perhaps mid-route, perhaps just as I’m dipping for courage at the crux. After many pitches I’ve yet to see it happen. It’s possible it could close shut in a chimney, but if you haven’t pulled your bag to the side for a tight squeeze you can’t use it anyway.

    As to the problems of falling off and getting soaked: The thin webbing waist strap that came with the bag sucks. It easily slips through the buckle and risks the whole thing sliding down your waist, but I always tie mine on with cord anyway (buckles break, too), so this is pretty much a non-issue. The only thing I’d like to see changed about this chalk bag is the material. Cotton is soft and cuddly but I don’t cuddle my chalk bag. For now, this stays with my sport climbing rack because a cotton sack has no place in the mountains. If Beal makes a nylon version, I’ll probably take it everywhere.

    Get your own Beal Cocoon Chalk Bag

    Drew Thayer blogs at Carrots and Peanut Butter. He is a Senior Contributor to The Climbing Zine.

    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 two books: The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

    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. 

     

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    Just One More, The Acquired Taste of New Routes in Indian Creek

    Jan 3 • Locations • 363 Views

    “Once in a while you get shown the light

    In the strangest of places if you look at it right”

    Scarlet Begonias by The Grateful Dead

    “I just want one first ascent,” I told my best friend Two Tent Timmy, while we stood amongst the winter solitude in our desert home of Indian Creek.

    Timmy just flashed his legendary gold tooth, and smiled at me, as the desert smiled as well, without a soul in sight, the north facing ridges and cliff tops covered in snow, and the rock in front of us basking in the sun; a peace that could fill your soul for the rest of your days if you’re in a Zen state of mind.

    by Luke Mehall, publisher of The Climbing Zine (banner photo of the author on Superette Crack, Dove Creek Wall. Photo: Madeline Pickering)

    He’s always been more Zen than me; I’ve always been more angsty, like I’m looking for something to feed that angst and turn that feeling into satisfaction. New routes in Indian Creek are the perfect fuel for that fire.

    Winter in Indian Creek is a magical time. In the autumn The Creek is overrun by dirtbags, the tribe migrating to where the weather is good, and in the West Indian Creek usually holds on to good weather longer than most destinations. Once a winter storm rolls in and the ski season begins the tribe dissipates, some go back to their jobs, others just keep the wheels in their Subarus and Sprinter vans rolling to the next destination.

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    The winter nights are long and cold, and the days surprisingly warm, like you’ve entered some time tunnel back to a Golden Age. It leaves the mind open to wandering, ripe for creative thought and action. The day Two Tent and I stared up at this unclimbed line on the Broken Tooth wall was one of those days.

    I’d scoped the line while hiking around one day when we were a party of three, my anxious nature unable to sit still. With surprisingly little effort I found a corner that didn’t appear to have any anchors on it. It looked to have some off-width climbing, another acquired taste some might say was akin to S&M and abusive relationships that somehow made you feel really good…when it was over.

    Though I’d established many new routes back home in Colorado, I was hesitant for years to ever think of putting up a new line in Indian Creek. I mean, there are already thousands of perfect cracks in The Creek, it didn’t seem necessary to add another to the mix. But, just because libraries are full of books, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write one yourself. I simply couldn’t resist. Plus, all I wanted was just one. Was that too much to ask for?

    Two Tent and I had already experienced a solid day of climbing at Broken Tooth. We had the wall all to ourselves and had that high, which accompanies friendship, jamming sandstone cracks and breathing fresh desert air all day. Somehow I talked him into trying this corner I was almost certain had never seen the touch of the human hand.

    As I started up a thin crack that led to a small roof my notion was validated. Small chunks of rocks came off the crack as I jammed it, the edges sharp and crisp. I quickly resorted to aid climbing when the crack pulled through the roof and went into a corner at about ¾ of an inch. Then it opened up to an off-width chimney and I could no longer simply pull on gear to get up. I had to climb.

    I spent about an hour in that crack, cursing, crying out in fear, wondering what the hell I was doing. It was covered in sand, and for a while it would only take Big-Bros, a necessary yet, uncomforting piece of gear for wide cracks. Finally I was at the top of the chimney and it turned into a perfect hand crack, leading fifteen more feet up to a small ledge. I built an anchor and had Two Tent send up the bolt kit. I painstakingly hand drilled two bolts, as the sun went down. Defeated, we hiked down in the dark, and I vowed that I had my one new route, and I didn’t need to ever do that again. I wanted to name the line Gold Tooth, commemorating Two Tent’s stylish grill and staying in synch with the theme of the cliff, but it was just too nasty of a climb. Instead, we went with Snaggle Tooth. At camp that night, in Indian Creek tradition Two Tent and I carved a small plaque to put at the base of the climb.

    A month later I was poking around again at Broken Tooth with my friend Keith. There was just one more line that looked like low hanging fruit, a perfect hand crack up high, and a creative low angle corner that would reach it. Keith was game and I figured, why not, just one more? The climb was indeed better than old Snaggle Tooth, so good we decided it needed a proper title, while bumping some 2 Pac on the drive to the crag, we came up with a name: Tooth Pac. The course to full on addiction had been set. Instead of being defeated after finishing Pac’s tribute route, we were energized. We cracked PBR’s and basked in that feeling only the desert seems to provide. I wanted more of that feeling, much more.

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    Hike around the Utah desert for long enough, and follow your intuition and curiosity instead of the crowds and you’ll discover that there are thousands of unclimbed lines, probably more there than anywhere else in the United States. Yet, a very small percentage of modern climbers who visit The Creek actually put up new routes. For good reason, a new climb can take most of the day, and sometimes the line is not as good as it looks from the ground. Plus, the whole thing feels like work. Your already heavy backpack gets heavier when you throw in extra gear and a drill, and then all of the sudden there’s no room for those post-climb beers. (Newbie tech tip here: never put your beers at the bottom of a Creek pack. I made that mistake once and ended up with a soggy pack that reeked like beer for weeks.) Most of us get out to Indian Creek to get away from work, not to do more. New routing certainly takes away the idea that The Creek is sport-trad climbing.

    There was another element to the pursuit, I was losing my motivation to push my limits and feel passionate about the climbing there. I needed a boost, a push to try as hard as I did fifteen years ago when I started to climb at The Creek and was just learning to hand jam. That felt like The Hardest Thing In The World. Watching Indian Creek veterans jam up hand cracks, finger cracks, and off-widths was like witnessing magic. How the hell did they do that? They were artists and athletes practicing some sort of wizardry. Soon, like anything you realize its technique and practice. I was far from being a master but I’d spend hundreds of my days in The Creek, I could jam, but was I jamming, was I still feeling the magic? Because without the magic climbing seems a little silly.

    Soon, I’d enlisted everyone I knew who would be interested in the pursuit of new routes. Many friends dismissed my newfound passion, and looked away from the crazy look my eyes must have possessed, but others had that same look in their eyes. We formed a little posse, and every weekend I could I’d drive out from Durango to meet whoever wanted to toil on the stone with hopes of uncovering a new gem.

    Once I found climbs that were at my limit I noticed I tried much harder than I would if they’d already been climbed. The lure of being the first person to do it, and to finish a project that could take up to several years to get done invigorated me, and renewed my love for this desert.

    I saw the saw the same thing in my friends. My other best friend named Tim (yes I have two best friends with the same first name) had the same yearning for the new. One day, on a climb on the obscure Green Wall, (located in between the Cat Wall and Broken Tooth) I watched Tim send his first true 5.11 in The Creek, a climb we dubbed No Take On The Flake. We were all elevating our efforts, and it felt good.

    The author climbing "No Take On The Flake" Green Wall, Indian Creek Photo: Braden Gunem

    The author climbing “No Take On The Flake” Green Wall, Indian Creek Photo: Braden Gunem

    The problem was, other than the Tooth Pac line, no one was repeating our new routes. That’s fine for many areas, just because your route doesn’t get done again shouldn’t take away the special experience you had developing it, but in Indian Creek its all about that shared communal experience. Where else in the States can you comfortably climb and hang with your 30 best friends and not feel crowded? There’s enough cracks and land for everyone out there, we wanted to start developing climb that people would actually repeat.

    At this point many of us in the crew were constantly on the lookout for new climbs, while the other half of our crew were trying to avoid getting caught up in our shenanigans, and not my phone calls. One day, with a big posse at the popular Optimator Wall, a line across the canyon caught my eye. A single shaft of light cast perfectly on the crack, and within minutes four of us had beers in hand, going for a little “beer-aineering” hike across the way.

    Dove Creek Wall

    Dove Creek Wall

    The ten-minute hike over was fruitful, and that perfect looking crack, was indeed perfect. The wall didn’t show any evidence of previous traffic and it’s kept us busy for the last couple years. We dubbed it the Dove Creek Wall, after a small farming town on the drive from Durango to The Creek, notorious for quirky gas station employees and other rural Colorado funkiness. To our satisfaction the wall has provided several moderate routes, and many harder 5.12 projects. That perfect looking line became my personal project, and after 20 some tries I still haven’t been able to get ‘er done yet. But the magic is in the trying, and I’ve never had a crack project like this thing. The climb starts so thin you couldn’t fit a ruler in it, and eventually opens up to a six-inch off-width, slowly opening up as it goes. The most popular route on the wall is a 5.9 called 99 Cent Tamale, which incredibly can be climbed almost entirely using face holds, a miracle in this crack climbing Mecca of the world.

    Looking back on these fiendish and satisfying few years I know that if I ever get bored with Indian Creek again its my own fault for a lack of trying. I now spend most of my rest days hiking new cliffs with new and old friends, like it’s the Gold Rush, but the only rewards are in the form of experience. Sometimes the hikes are long and produce nothing, and I get frustrated. However, one particular hike last spring led us to a cliff that had almost 30 unclimbed lines. You can be damn sure we’re up there next season, rolling up our sleeves, getting dirty, putting in hard work for this ephemeral pursuit we call desert climbing. Because, you know, I’ve learned, once you find something you love, you always want just one more.

    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 two books: The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • Climber on The Nun

    The Mammal In The Mirror by Drew Thayer

    Jan 2 • Locations • 221 Views

    Never pass up an opportunity to shut the hell up”

    I don’t have to squint to read the bumper sticker; it’s right there in front of me and I know exactly what it says. I know, in fact, precisely what it means for me, and that by some cosmic logic I pulled off the highway to pee five minutes ago exactly so I would get back on behind this car and read these words that I’ve been thinking right in front of my eyes.

    by Drew Thayer, Senior Contributor 

    The invitation is right there. Can I embrace it? I set the cruise control to 65 and watched the patchwork valley of hayfields and pump jacks drift by, letting my thoughts slowly subside to nothing.

    **********************

    Like all mammals, there is war going on inside my head: two instincts, old as life itself, pull in opposite directions. Self-preservation, the watchdog of the individual life, instructs me to be cautious and scrutinize all potential risk. It tells me to eat now while I can, and hoard food for later. But a herd of self-centered individuals would fester and decay, confined to its immediate surroundings and food supply, and never discover the ample bounty beyond the next ridge. This competing instinct—to explore, take risks, and act spontaneously on intuition—has landed many a creature in harm’s way, broken, lost, or worse, but the discoveries and exploits help the community survive. This conflict between comfort-seeking and risk-seeking behaviors has been documented in birds, mammals, and human toddlers. As Homo Sapiens grows to adulthood, the most advanced and subtle logic system in the known universe learns to choose between these urges. Sometimes.

    Of course, I’m not a squirrel or an antelope or a hunter-gatherer in the wilderness; by day I do gymnastics with linear algebra at a computer and in the evenings I do silly things to satisfy physical urges, like ride a bicycle around in circles or lift iron disks off the floor or climb up rocks the hard way so I can walk down the other side. I generally do not worry about my survival. I have never been predated upon, never endured famine, never weathered a storm without some kind of shelter. I am, generally, safe.

    I am, however modern, still a mammal. Despite my swollen frontal cortex and its powerful capacities to organize and reason, ancient instincts pull with an irresistible tug. I squander resources on fruitless explorations, I eat far too little walking far too long just to see the other side of a mountain range. Sometimes I climb steep rocks without a rope, or use one where it wouldn’t matter. I also eat and drink too much, hoard protein bars and noodle packets, sleep when I have work to do, and avoid danger like the plague.

    I am a whirlwind of contrasts, a walking paradox. I pretend to control this animal with 27 years of reasoning. I forget that the animal is 2.7 billion years old. 1:100,000,000; how’s that for a ratio. I am a rider atop a surfboard, struggling to choose the direction I paddle, unaware in my limited reference frame of the deeper currents that move me.

    I am a reasonably smart person. I got into graduate school to study a field with a name most people haven’t heard of. I can do magic tricks with pages of numbers, draw order out of chaos, water from the rock. Sometimes I’m even smart enough to recognize my own powerlessness. But not that often.

    I started climbing rocks because it felt good. At some point I tried climbing rocks that seemed too hard and it felt amazing and empowering. I climbed rocks for recognition, which felt pleasing, and faded. I climbed them to prove something to myself, which led to exciting consequences and a few badly sprained ankles and mostly a waste of time. Sometimes I climbed them because I felt the sun streaming down from heaven and gravity evaporate on the wind, and I felt connected to everything. The intensity of this connection fades, but once attained, I never lose it.

    whipper

    These days, I’ve learned not to try to create the sublime moments. After seven years of dedication, I’m still pretty bad at forcing them. Sometimes I climb rocks to share an experience with friends, and that is deeply satisfying. Mostly, these days, I’m more aware of my own powerlessness paddling on the deep currents, and by climbing rocks I get a glimpse of my real self, like catching a glace of my reflection on the calm surface of a lake as the wind ripples recede for a moment. For many of us, these breaks in the wind are the closest we get to self-knowledge.

    Most days I let the currents of instinct take me where they will. The stakes are low enough, why strive so hard to choose? Sometimes self-preservation wins and I quit thirty minutes into a workout and sit on the couch and watch a Game of Thrones episode and eat a pint of ice cream. And I feel satiated, in that moment. Sometimes the exploratory, risk-taking urges win and I leave the snacks alone and bike through the sunset into the dusk without a plan, or do extra sets on an interval workout, or break ground in the garden with a pick axe, or leave the computer alone and write a letter to my grandmother with a pen. Sometimes I choose which path to take. But not often.

    How much power does my logical brain actually have over my emotional, instinctual self? Every time I climb, my reflection in the vertical mirror forces me to deal with this question. How many times do I find that instead of trying to climb up the rock, I’m actually trying not to fall? No wonder the climb seems so hard. No wonder I fall.

    When I think about my best climbs, they’re always the times when I was just an animal moving up stone. I focused my attention on holds, movement, and solutions. Send or sail, doesn’t matter—it’s the pure headspace that makes it memorable. On the best pitches I’m letting my intrepid, exploratory self do what it knows what to do—the “me” upstairs is just along for the ride. To enjoy. Perhaps to share the story with another mind, later.

    **********************

    The road turns to gravel at the Rifle Mountain Fish Hatchery and I ease my car up a narrowing canyon of limestone cliffs. I park under the shade of a cottonwood grove and walk up towards the crag to meet dear friends. The first saunters up in purple tights like a court jester, embraces me in a warm hug. The second emerges out of the forest from a nap, also clad in silly clothes. We walk up beneath the steep walls, tie into a rope, and try hard for no purpose other than the trying itself.

    At a rest stance I scan the cliff above for holds. I try to read the sequence, and all I can tell is that it appears impossible. My grip is fatiguing. While searching for footholds I notice the bolt below me, and the self-preservation urge tugs with force. “You could just rest on that bolt,” it seems to say. “It’s safe.” The voice is so enticing. Of course it’s safe. This is why we practice hardship—this is why we look in the mirror—to gain the strength to resist that voice. To earn the ability to choose. This is, I believe, what they call consciousness.

    I am still weak, but I have trained. I look up from the bolt to the wall above. The unknown. Nothing is certain, not even how I will use the first hold. The siren song of comfort-seeking instinct drags me downward. Soon I will be too heavy to climb. I remember my training, and I remember the bumper sticker. This, clearly, is an opportunity be silent for once. I focus on the edge above and my mind quiets, and then I notice something else: I’m curious about that edge, and the next, and how I might manage to reach between them both. Like prodding the embers of last night’s fire to life, I feel the exploration instinct stir deep within. With my attention focused on the sliver of limestone above my face, I shut up and let the curious animal climb up and seek what it wants to find.

    Drew Thayer blogs at Carrots and Peanut Butter. He is a Senior Contributor to The Climbing Zine.

    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 two books: The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • tg-nose-06

    Awake On El Cap by Tristan Greszko

    Dec 28 • Locations • 1139 Views

    Awake.

    Alone.

    It’s 3 am. Only two more hours to sleep, the clock is ticking. The world is silent.  Maybe there’s a breath of wind here and there.  Late July in California and it isn’t hot at all – I’m in a big puffy coat, sitting on a half-inflated sleeping pad, sleeping bag wrapped precariously underneath my legs. Weird.

    by Tristan Greszko (banner photo by Manny Umanzor)

    I’ve been awake for hours, actually. Squirming and shifting carefully, a few inches at a time in fear of losing my pad or bag – or both – to the sky below me. At least the full moon isn’t shining directly in my eyes anymore. Instead, it’s illuminating the wall in front of me, bleak and pale and bleached bone white, while the menacing shadows to my right funnel into a chasm of incalculable depth and terror, the rest of the valley quietly basking in the moonlight far below. Laying down or stretching out isn’t really an option. The ledge I’m perched on – trying to sleep on – is barely wide enough for me to sit upright, and slopes remorselessly towards the bottomless darkness. The topo merely calls my location: “poor bivy for 1.” Every time I extend my right leg, when it succumbs to pins and needles, it goes over the edge, and every time I start to doze, the abyss below seductively beckons me to just slip quietly off into space.

    But I’m clipped in hard to the wall. I’m not going anywhere. When I snap awake from my half-asleep visions, I’m reminded exactly where I am, how I got here. El Cap. The Nose. Camp 5. The emptiness below isn’t unknown, it’s a tilted sea of granite, the horizontal world abruptly folded over on itself, steadily steepening towards dead vertical. The wall feels like an enormous, crushing, crashing wave when you stand below it. But right here, now, on this hilariously uncomfortable ledge 2,400 feet off the ground, it all feels normal and the only way down, paradoxically, is straight up.

    Jane and Alexa at the El Cap Tower Bivy. Photo: Tristan Greszko

    Jane and Alexa at the El Cap Tower Bivy. Photo: Tristan Greszko

    And I’m not actually alone either. Jane and Alexa are sleeping on another ledge 20 feet above. They’re so quiet. Are they really sleeping? They must be. Damn them and their confident comfort in this absurd spot. Except that I wouldn’t be here at all without their skill, and trust, and confidence. I’m two days into what I’ve already realized is the greatest adventure of my life. I’ve fully known it for two days too; it hasn’t been a slowly-building realization.  The feeling when Jane tossed the extra fixed rope from Sickle Ledge – that’s when all doubt fell away and I knew what I was getting into.  It must be the same feeling, or a similar version at least, of what the first astronauts felt on their way to the moon, how it felt like to cast off a bow line in the 1400s to sail across the ocean for the first time.  That’s what’s keeping me awake.  It isn’t quite anxiety; I was never really nervous about any of this, which is strange in itself.  It’s some sick form of type II excitement.  It’s the feeling of being alive – really, truly alive and viscerally engaged in the moment.  Though the sloping ledge of doom and insomniac vertigo of the sickening exposure have something to do with my restlessness too.

    Jane starting up "The World's Greatest Rock Climb" aka The Nose. Photo: Tristan Greszko

    Jane starting up “The World’s Greatest Rock Climb” aka The Nose. Photo: Tristan Greszko

    My head is churning, awash with words and names and phrases I’ve never spoken before, even though I’ve been climbing for years.  Lower out.  Sickle Ledge.  Penji.  Short fixing.  Protraxion.  The Boot Flake.  Ride the pig.  NIAD.  The haul line is fixed.  Great Roof.  Ready to haul.  The Glowering Spot.  All swirling around in my brain, hijacking my attention and forcing everything else out.  I spent the first day with my daisies always the wrong length, unnecessary carabiners clanking around idiotically.  I pretty much sucked at jugging.  Tom Evans would hate my green pants and blue hoodie.  My hands are throbbing and my throat hurts.  My quads ache from hauling.  But now it’s suddenly 5 am.  Time is strange like that.  So liquid.  Six more pitches and we top out.

    A few days before, I was joking that gloriously cruiser biking around the valley, drinking beers and swimming in the Merced is the best training for El Cap.  We hung out at the bridge and made casual small talk about the famous pitches.  It seemed so nonchalant and distant, but obviously the nonchalance was just a coping strategy, an attempt to keep the pre-climb nerves in check while we waited for the weather to clear.  Now it’s all so real – I’ve never done anything like this.  It’s my first big wall.  My first aid climb.  My biggest climb ever, in fact – far taller than Serenity-Sons a year and a half prior.  Pitch zero of The Nose, for me, was the LeConte Boulder bolt ladder.  It’s only been a few days since we were there, when Jane taught me the basics of aid climbing, the sequence of everything, how it’s all supposed to flow. And everything made sense then – when I was only 30 feet off the ground and the haul bag was just a tiny pack with a few rocks in it.

    Not that it doesn’t make sense now – after two days on the wall, where you have no choice but to get your shit together and make the systems work, everything is going smoothly.  I’m not exactly flying, even up the easier aid pitches.  But I did well when we fixed to Sickle – the first real aid pitches that day were great.  And the pitches I led up Stovelegs and across Dolt were amazing – even cruiser.  Pancake Flake was a real tease – oh, how I wanted to free it!  But when you’re tired and have about 40 lbs of gear and aiders and daisies and approach shoes and all manner of other crap hanging off your harness, even Pancake’s glorious 10a perfection seems burly.

    tg-nose-02

    Sickle Ledge panorama. Photo: Tristan Greszko

    But there are also things that don’t make sense, things that are breaking my brain.  Clearly big wall climbing is a trip down the rabbit hole of your of your own mind – facing and overcoming your own deepest fears – as much as it is a physical feat.  The abstraction of it all.  Managing the madness of jugging a free-hanging strand of nylon 3,000 feet off the ground, occasionally spinning around towards the valley in a nauseating, exhilarating, pirouetting race to the next anchor, a race seemingly against your own destruction.  John Long sums it up by saying:

    “If wall climbing is good for nothing else, it’s a sure way to find out, once and for all, how you really feel – not what you’re expected to feel, or have been told or taught to feel.  Slowly, you take on the stark, barren aspect of the great wall, and sink into the tide pools of your mind.  It’s weird and disturbing to see what’s prowling around there, and you can’t surface no matter how hard you try.  Down you go, into the silences within yourself.  Finally, you hit bottom and just hover there, weightless, face to face with those ancient fears and feral sensations that reach back to when man first slithered from the ooze, reared up on his hind legs and bolted for the nearest cave to steady up.  It’s very much like being insane, but far more intense because you’re so aware of it.  Mastering these feelings, the inner tension of being strung taut between fear and desire, is the fundamental challenge for the wall climber.”

    How did I get here?  It’s mind-boggling that these moments, clinging to this nearly mile-high rock, are even possible – that humans are capable of this.  But pitch after pitch, higher and higher, we keep climbing.

    And, now… it’s been almost two months since climbing The Nose, and I’m sitting here, traveling again, in the Atlanta airport, in this overwhelmingly pedestrian scene trying to figure out how to sum it all up.  This beautiful girl across from me is staring at her phone, looking supremely bored, taking selfies.  What are her hopes, her dreams?  Where does her mind go, when it wanders?  Mine snaps back to the valley – we’re sitting on El Cap Tower the first night and darkness is creeping in.  Music is playing softly and we’re eating dinner, watching an unbelievable sunset.  There are people in the meadows – our friends checking in on our progress, tiny ants yelling, flashing us with their headlamps.  Miraculously, we’re pretty much the only ones on the route – on all of El Cap for that matter – so when we yell and make crazy hooting wild animal noises, we know it’s us they’re yelling back at.  The excitement, and relief, and disbelief in our surroundings is electric and overwhelming.  These… these are moments that will remain etched in my memory for the rest of my life, in perfect clarity.  We’re stoked to the moon.  We’re wild and alive, in the only place on earth that makes sense at the time.

    I could keep going like this for a while, writing out a laundry list of memories – Jane’s wild whoops of joy on top of Texas Flake, and when she stuck the King Swing.  Waking up with mice in the haul bag the first night.  The moment before Alexa and I came off the anchor to jug the final, maniac bolt ladder before topping out.  But those things, my memories alone, they don’t get at the heart of it.  The Great Big Why – as in – why do we climb?  So many people have asked that question, and the one thing that’s clear to me is that we all have different answers – different reasons for our obsession, different things we carry into the mountains with us, different things we leave behind on the ground.  Here’s what I know: life is short, and it’s always flowing away from us, yet it gives so much back when you push the limit of your comfort zone.  It’s so precious and unpredictable.  My parents both died twenty years ago, when I was 13, and sometimes I feel like that’s the only real story my life will ever tell.  Sometimes, someone you love suddenly decides they don’t love you any more.  There are bills, career worries, errant dreams and ambitions and missed connections.  But when I climb, it’s the perfect meditation.  Nothing else matters, nothing can touch me.  My attention is focused, locked in the present; it’s an immaculate forgetting, if even for just a few moments.  And more often than not, when you’re up there, it just so happens that you’re sharing your time with some really, really amazing humans who I’m honored to count as friends.  Perhaps ruminating on the bigger questions of life in general, Long also writes: “The question can, in fact, never be finally answered, for each answer simply uncovers more questions; and that, I think, is the beauty of the thing.  If nothing else, climbing is a kind of search that never ends.”  And that’s an answer I’m ok with.

    In the end, we topped out at about 3 pm on Saturday, July 25th – three wild days and 28 pitches later – to utterly peaceful stillness, solitude, and brilliant sunshine that seemed to make me immediately wonder whether or not I was ever trying to sleep on that tiny ledge at Camp 5, just 12 hours before, or if I’d dreamed the whole thing.  I know, I know, it’s only The Nose, small peanuts in the big wall world.  But your first wall is a special thing.  And the feeling of walking back into the meadow after the climb, amongst the cars and the people and back into this horizontal world, that first time you look back up at the route, at that impossibly imposing wall, knowing full well that it WAS real, and that it DID happen, and was completely mind blowing – that’s a feeling I’ll never forget, that I know I’ll never stop chasing, never stop trying to hold on to.

    And that’s been the overwhelming feeling since then – a mix of melancholic wonder, exhilaration, and an unshakeable, nostalgic hangover, like waking up from an adventure that you know has fundamentally changed who you are, down to the core, and yet still remains just that – a dream from a world perpendicular to our own.The Tree! Photo: Tristan Greszko

    The Tree! Photo: Tristan Greszko

    This is Tristan Greszko’s first piece for The Climbing Zine. 

    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 two books: The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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