• ul

    Review: Black Diamond Ultralights

    Dec 1 • Gear • 293 Views

    Twice a year I attend the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, which among other things showcases all the latest and greatest climbing gear. And every show I struggle to find new climbing products I’m excited about for my day-to-day climbing. The Black Diamond Ultralight Camalots are an absolute exception—the minute I heard that BD was coming out with a freshly designed cam I booked it right over to their booth to check them out.


    Spidy- aka Tim Foulkes handing over the goods for the next Indian Creek pitch.


    In the early stages of development the word was that these were going to be a specialty product—something only for light and fast ascents in the alpine, not for everyday cragging. After they were released I ordered a set, and figured I’d save them for my version of light and fast climbs, you know, not use and abuse them on every Indian Creek excursion, but rather save them selectively and carefully.

    banner photo: A set of Ultralights (minus the .4) after three seasons of use. 

    But I ended up not doing that—for each and every trad climb I rack up for I’ve had these on my harness. And after three full climbing seasons I’ve plugged these in everything from granite alpine climbs to first ascents in The Creek.

    The weight difference in the Ultralights is 25% less than the previous version of the Camalot. To put that into perspective the Ultralight #1 weighs about as much as the old .5 Camalots (3.56 oz/3.49oz respectively). On paper the 25% doesn’t seem as dramatic as when you compare a full rack of Ultralights (they are available in sizes .4 to #4) to a full rack of the regular Camalots. The difference is incredible. Try it next time you get your hands on some.

    I was expecting some noticeable wear and tear by how much I’ve been using the Ultralights, but other than some roughage around the stitching of the webbing, they seem to be holding up just fine. We’ll see how they look five years down the line.

    I’ve also developed a technique for how I lead with the Ultralights. I try to place all my regular cams first and save the Ultralights for later, ensuring that the weight on my harness is as light as possible near the top of the pitch. Often while racking up for a long Creek pitch I’ve wished all my friends had racks of these as well—the difference on a climb where you often need 6-12 pieces of the same size would be staggering!

    There are a couple notable sacrifices to the Ultralights. The first obvious one is the price: they are on average around 25% more expensive at retail. The second is that they are not as strong as the previous version of the Camalot. For comparison a #2 Ultralight is rated at 12kN (2698lbf) and a #2 Camalot is rated at 14Kn (3147lbf).

    Bottom line: the best camming device ever made. I already want to get a double set of these, and I want my friends to as well. That said, I hope they expand and make Ultralight versions of the #5 and #6, the sizes where you often don’t haul them up a climb because they’re so heavy. Put them on your holiday gift list right now, or get one for someone you love!

    Black Diamond Ultralights on Backcountry.com: 

    .4 Ultralight 

    .5 Ultralight

    .75 Ultralight 

    #1 Ultralight 

    #2 Ultralight 

    #3 Ultralight

    #4 Ultralight 


    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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    The Next Generation, an excerpt from Graduating From College Me by Luke Mehall

    Nov 28 • Locations • 280 Views

    This young hippie left a bag of his groceries with my stuff after last weekend climbing in the Creek—granola, ramen, tortillas—you know, the usual, standard fare. Same stuff I was eating fifteen years ago when I was a young, idealistic, over-stoker bohemian type.

    by Luke Mehall, an excerpt from his book, Graduating From College Me. Banner photo by Michael Shaw. 

    We’d invited a couple of our younger friends along for the adventure of sampling some new routes, and they invited a few of their friends, so it was kinda this big hippie adventure.

    From my perspective, hippie or not, there are only two types of young climbers: the cocky ones who don’t want your advice or help, and the other, more humble types, the ones who sense that climbing is this adventure thing that you take a big bite off of, more than you can chew, and then you sort it out as you go along. Fortunately, this crew all fell in the latter category.

    We older climbers are scarce when compared to the masses that are joining our culture of cliff dancing. Yeah, it’s cliff dancing out here in the desert, ’cause it ain’t no damn sport—most of the time we just sit around and look at how beautiful it is, but beautiful is not the right word: it’s sublime; it’s something we NEED, not something we can do without once we know it.

    But they (you) barely know it, and once it’s tasted, more is desired. This is where souls come to heal and get bruised at the same time, but you know it’s the body that is bruised, not the spirit. The spirit is invigorated here.

    The author on "The Quest", Beyonce Wall, Indian Creek. Photo: Bonnie McIntyre

    The author on “The Quest”, Beyonce Wall, Indian Creek. Photo: Bonnie McIntyre

    And there is poetry here, and they (you) know it all instinctually. But what you don’t know instinctually is how to climb in this place, how to protect it, and how to treat it right. That’s where we come in. We’ve learned. Sometimes the hard way. I know there are plenty of times when I did the wrong thing, when I got off trail, or when I didn’t pack out my poop. But you know, we make these mistakes, and then we try to share the information so that we’re not all making these mistakes all the time. The desert is a precious place. And at this moment in time, when we are preoccupied with digital technology, the desert speaks supreme truths about our souls. It helps us protect our souls.

    When I hear of climbing and the next generation, it’s always in the terms of sport and athleticism. What about aesthetics? What about climbing as art? What about climbing as life? What about climbing as love? What about climbing as an escape from this industry that wants us glued to our phones? And where do they learn this?

    And what the hell do I know about answers? I’m still searching, and I’m learning that a lot of answers just probably don’t come until old age, or death. And even though I’m approaching forty years old, that number doesn’t seem old or wise anymore.

    I can only know what I see in them and the few things I’m able to teach them. Yes, you should get a helmet. No, don’t get into that bowline knot; sure it works, but is it fail proof like the Figure 8? Yes, you do need a bigger pack, especially for these Indian Creek days. Tape is good; it protects from the gobies, because it’s bad style to bleed all over a route, and you’ll last longer if you protect your skin. Water is good too. So is beer if you can handle yourself, but save it for the end of the day.

    Sunsets, yeah sunsets at the Creek are the best. Don’t you just wish you could fade away with it sometimes? But like Neil Young said, it’s better to burn out than fade away. I guess. Do you guys still listen to Neil Young and Bob Dylan and The Dead? Cool. Yeah, I thought you did.

    You’re not all hippies though. I get it. I just have a romantic notion toward hippieness ’cause that’s where I started. But, I hope you’re different than mainstream America, ’cause mainstream sucks. It’s boring. It’s not doing good things for America. It’s why we have Trump and TVs that are on all the time, and how do you even think with a TV on all the time? How do you think different thoughts? I’ve pondered this a lot, and my only answer is to disconnect and be Out There. Or Out Here. But even those moments that I’m drawing upon from yesterday that were simple and beautiful are now the past.

    The next generation, I probably have more to offer you in writing and stories than I do with us climbing together. I can only share a rope with so few of you. I can only warn so few of you in person how high the stakes are in climbing.

    That climbing wants to kill you. It really does.

    It’s like that spider, I forget which one, that mates with its prey and then kills and eats it. Climbing isn’t plastic or pretty, or even sexy most of the time. It’s dirty and dark and secretive until you’ve paid your dues by almost losing your life. And, even then, it takes your friends to the next climb, that thing called death. But, it’s everything too, especially in this world gone crazy that gets crazier every day. Climbing brings us to nature, and that is where we came from, so yeah, that’s why this lifestyle feels so good.

    Social media, and the media in general, promises that your generation will take the grades higher and the objectives bigger. Shit, maybe someday someone will even free solo El Capitan. I’m sure that all will happen—evolution in our sport is predictable even if it’s still mind blowing. While the world awaits V17, I know most of you will be chuffing through your experiences like outdoor climbers have always done and will always do, sharing sunsets and sips of water, preparing for that perfect moment on that perfect climb, that place and moment in time that is all yours, on this ball of rock hurling through space.

    Luke Mehall is the publisher of The Climbing Zine, and author of Graduating From College Me, 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


    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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    Creeksgiving by Luke Mehall

    Nov 21 • Dirtbagging • 494 Views

    No place soaks up sun like the Johnny Cat enclave at the Cat Wall, Indian Creek. The maroon cliffs are striped with perfect cleaved fissures, like vertical gateways into a hidden world. The desert heat can be oppressive, but in late autumn, the low golden rays cast long shadows over the walls.

    by Luke Mehall, an excerpt from his new book, Graduating From College Me 

    We, the climbers—all smiles, scrapes, taped hands, and colorful costumes—are the gatekeepers against anything from the outside that might intrude. I’m reminded of Kerouac and his Beat Generation: they left behind the postwar clutter of new televisions, shiny cars, and urban sprawl to climb mountains and collect frost-white granite, blazing meteors, and volcanic ash in words. We, too, live simply, beaten by wind and by stone, trying to access something larger, something enclosed in the rocks and in ourselves.

    We watch Mark climb that “thing to the right of Johnny Cat.” Mark wears a black-and-gold cape that glitters in the sun. The crack is so narrow his fingers must feel as if they’re being run over by an eighteen-wheeler.


    He places tiny cams while the cape dangles and then flaps horizontally. This could be a movie. The maroon wall is the screen, and our superhero is engaged in a battle for good; the villain is gravity, or perhaps, doubt and fear. Our hero screams and jams and finds tiny edges for his feet. And then—bam!—he’s flying off the rock. The crowd cheers. Another year of Creeksgiving is kicked off.

    An acid test of sorts for the climbing community, this nonevent was born of friends gathering for Thanksgiving weekend at the Superbowl campsite in the early 2000s. There was a man they called the Mayor, a stubble-faced sage who took care of everyone with a slyly welcoming grin.

    One year, it rains as it never does in the desert: continuously, filling up long-forgotten washes, and ensuring that the Wingate Sandstone is soaked for days.


    Sure, we could start drinking, but instead we stage a 4K footrace around the campground. I pull a variety of costumes out of a duffel bag. Our friend Shaun works for an athletic company, and he produces a bag of socks and hats. That night, we have a dance off. People wrestle in the mud—grown men driven to madness by rain and alcohol, writhing on the desert floor.

    “This is America’s greatest footrace,” Adam proclaims the next year. We run a half-marathon beneath a dark-blue sky, just a handful of us, one wearing a one-piece cat suit, another a Luigi costume. We jog from Superbowl to the distant ramparts of South Six Shooter Peak; we’ll Jumar up it before running back.

    Adam is a college friend from Gunnison, Colorado. When I met him, he was into ecstasy and raver parties. Then he grew up and sought adventure in other forms. He was once robbed at gunpoint in South Africa, and he told me, wide eyed, “It was so cool.” He skis powder, floats rivers, loves women, and screams about “cutting the rope” Vertical Limit style at the climbing gym. His eyes are as blue and deep as glacial tarns. He’s ready, at any moment, to erupt into maniacal laughter.


    I follow his wild blond mane through a wash, silent, moving slowly. My feet sink into the fine pink grains; my breath guides me through sand and stone.

    On the way back, we gaze at distant landmarks: North Six Shooter, the Cliffs of Insanity, the Happy Submarine. Six Shooter rises, proud and lean, like a crimson pistol. To our right is the Submarine; it has all the features of a sub, including a tiny periscope.

    I fall behind. Adam carries on, his Jim Bridwell–inspired shirt glistening with psychedelic colors, and then he fades into the desert, disappearing behind a small hill.

    That night at the Superbowl, the Mayor attends to the turkeys. He wears a big black moustache and devil’s horns. While we were running, he spent the entire day cooking six turkeys in carefully excavated pits.

    A group of sixty gathers around the fire, and each climber takes a turn stating what he or she is thankful for. At the dance off, a man in a pink suit ekes out a narrow victory over a man who strips down to his underwear and sprays everyone with cheap champagne. The liquid is sticky, a sugary dew upon our faces.

    The following noon, thirty of us arrive at the Pistol Whipped wall. The bright greens and yellows of our outfits replace the long-ago-wilted desert flowers. Adam has to leave for Salt Lake City. He and his girlfriend, Amber, say the things that people who are leaving Indian Creek say: “Sorry we have to bail. I’ve got work tomorrow.” “We’ll see you soon, though—you’re coming to Salt Lake this winter, right?” In front of them are the cracks and the secret world within the stone. Behind is the valley with its coruscations of sandstone running to the horizon, the dusty floor dotted with cottonwoods and red willows, silent with oncoming winter.

    When the weather is good and the body is able, no one ever wants to leave. We’ve just met Amber, and she jokes about writing us letters. I love people who write letters, and I tell her so.

    A month later while skiing, Adam dies in an avalanche. Thirty years old. I haven’t known the death of a close friend until now, and part of him stays with me, a voice in my head. Sometimes, it’s as if he’s still there, standing in the iron-stained dust below the crag on that perfectly hungover long-ago Friday.

    The next year Shaun builds a wooden structure he names Adam’s Arch; adorned with prayer flags, it’s the starting line for the races. By now, nearly all visitors to Indian Creek use the name Creeksgiving. The numbers swell in the Superbowl. Our dinner table is as long as Supercrack, with a hundred-person queue.

    During dinner, we have Timmy Foulkes’s Television, our imaginary TV station, with programming ranging from the telephone game to moustache competitions. Revelers wear rabbit costumes; there is a man with a horse head, a woman in a skintight fishnet top and black pleather pants. And there is pink, lots of pink—a pink wig, pink tights—and gold, so much gold.


    Sixty people pass a strip of LED lighting across our checkered linoleum dance floor. We dance until the stars fade into alpenglow.

    Creeksgiving has grown too big. We know it. Apparently, so do the authorities. The following spring at Creekster (a knock-off minicelebration during Easter), we catch the Utah police spying from the bushes. We decide to have fun with them and stage a silent moustache competition. I imagine those officers back at the station: “Well, Sarge, we tried to bust those hooligans, but they were actually really quiet. They did hold a moustache competition though.”

    And then, just like that, our Creeksgiving is over. We don’t gather at the Superbowl the following year. We’re all getting older. We’ve cried enough tears of joy at weddings to make an arroyo flow. We’re less committed to living like dirtbags and more committed to something else. You could call it love. Or life. Or adulthood. The word Creeksgiving, however, remains part of the lexicon, and climbers still gather under its name. Every autumn, I see the forum posts: “Who’s going to Creeksgiving this year?”

    I was fortunate to partake in this absurd celebration when climbers with wigs took whimsical whippers, and we danced as if no one were watching. Creeksgiving was our own little Golden age, encapsulated in magic and reverie, a point in time when, if a man in a golden cape had simply taken flight into the heavens or disappeared into the rock, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

    It never occurred to me that those moments could simply vanish, or that any one of us could. We never do; if we’re living right, we simply live, in the moment.

    I wish I could say I hold on to some ideal parting image of Adam—say, at that perfect instant atop a sandstone tower, where the afterburn of adventure blends with the camaraderie of partnership. Instead, I recall blurry fragments. Adam’s house in Salt Lake City days after his death, filled with his paperback books, skis, bikes, and one lone flower, still blooming and cared for by his roommates. His lucky piece, the pink Tri-Cam, which we barely discovered in a snow patch in front of his house. His quiet voice uttering the best piece of advice he ever gave me, “Just breathe.” And the time at the Creek when Adam and I sat on a tailgate and saw a shooting star blaze across the sky. In an instant, the object was gone, but countless other stars dotted the heavens. We sat there, breathing, dreaming, drifting off toward sleep.

    “Wouldn’t it be crazy to witness a comet hit the Earth and destroy us all?” I asked.

    All Adam said was, “That would be so awesome!”

    I know that in whatever incarnation future Creeksgivings will take, Adam will be there—closest to us when we’re scraping up some sandstone crack that cuts deep into raw skin or running through a desert wash draped in psychedelic hues or gathering with our faces lit by firelight—a spirit made of stardust, illuminating our bacchanal from the proscenium arch of the heavens.

    This piece was originally published in Alpinist, Issue 48. It is included in Mehall’s new book, Graduating From College Me, available in print and on Kindle. 

    Luke Mehall is the publisher of The Climbing Zine, and author of Graduating From College Me, 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


    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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  • erik-black-and-white

    The ’59 Sound, Remembering Eric Klimt by Kathy Karlo

    Nov 18 • Locations • 496 Views

    The alarm blared repeatedly until I was jolted awake, not knowing what was a dream and what was real. I had to go to work for a few hours; that was real. The dog was curled up between my legs, patiently waiting to go out, and there was a growing desire to get the coffee pot going; that was also real. I turned to my phone at the side of my bed to check how many little pop-ups had been sent to me through cyberspace as I slept soundly; seven new, real little red dots lit up the screen. I was substantially falling behind on work, e-mails, deadlines—all new things in my adult life (whatever that means).

    by Kathy Karlo (note: this piece is an excerpt from Volume 9, now available in print and on Kindle.) 

    And for a few sweet moments, as I lay there half in my dreamscape, I forgot about the day before. I forgot about the hours where I knew what I already knew but had to wait for the confirmation. “Climber dies in Zion National Park” news reports read. I scoured the Internet for any and all information possible, frantic to know the truth and simultaneously resisting the possibility that it could be someone I knew.

    Some friends directed to me to International Mountain Equipment in Salt Lake City, where they had seen a recent post about a lost loved one. I called and spoke with Shingo briefly; the post wasn’t in regard to the fatality in Zion, but I gave him my sincerest condolences. He said it had been a rough few weeks on the death front, and we shared a comfortable silence on the phone before I thanked him for his time.

    You put all of your emotions on hold until you have the hard facts in front of you, and even when you finally have them, there is still that nagging feeling of utter disbelief.

    I had never lost anybody in a rock climbing accident. I’ve gone through the grief of losing a loved one in my midtwenties and pray that I did it with grace and prudence. It took me several years to learn what loss was trying to teach me, which is hard when loss can seem so senseless. Unless we can find meaning in it, it all seems so senseless.

    You don’t measure love and friendship in time, I’ve learned. A connection between people doesn’t necessarily require years of history; all it needs is a moment of resonance between two souls. That’s part of the beauty of life—you can have many soul mates. It isn’t necessarily limited to one (romantic) partner.


    As a climber, it remains the number one reason why I do what I do. It isn’t about summits and sends. For me, it’s about feeling humanly connected to the world and the people who live in it. It’s about feeling shamelessly alive and sharing the joy of those summits and sends with like-minded people.

    Eric Klimt and I shook hands for the first time at the campground in Red Rocks, Las Vegas. Gašper Pintar and I were preparing for The Great Red Roof when he told me about his friend from the valley coming to meet us: the “man with the moustache.”

    Eric, his moustache, and I had a few great adventures out west before he left for Chattanooga in November. Only a week after his departure, I drove across the country to see him and tie in one last time. A part of me wasn’t ready for our time to be over. I think I saw something special in him when I met him because he was yearning for a type of otherness, like me (and like most climbers). When we met, I felt that about him immediately; it seemed like traveling filled that desire for him.

    Eric working The Great Red Roof, Red Rocks, Las Vegas. Photo: Kathy Karlo

    Eric working The Great Red Roof, Red Rocks, Las Vegas. Photo: Kathy Karlo

    Sitting in the Pickle Barrel postclimbing one night, guzzling down one whiskey after another (after another), we rambled on about existentialism and rock climbing. He mused over a climb he and Gašper had tried in the Creek a few weeks earlier. Gašper told him after he’d taken several repeated falls and chuffed his way up some iconic crack, “Your feet were sloppy.”


    Eric laughed at Gašper’s honesty and said, “He was right!”

    He raised his glass and—maybe it was the whiskey talking—began talking about becoming a better climber by being more empathetic. “You’ve got to be bold, Kathy,” he leaned over and told me. “Bring everything you’ve got with you—bring the goddam kitchen sink. But listen to others; be soft, and listen hard.”

    We’d talked about climbing Separate Reality and were making plans to spend a summer in Vedauwoo. He was excited about his new job, which gave him lots of time off to climb, and I was happy to meet him anywhere. Whether these trips were going to happen or not isn’t important; what was important was understanding that, within those moments we shared, the possibility of anything and everything existed in our words. There’s a magic in that.

    Before I was a climber, an old friend imparted a few words of wisdom upon me: “Live your life. Don’t look back and limit the things you regret because nothing we do is in vain as long as we can look back and say we were in it for the right reasons at the time.”

    People have asked me if I’ll consider not climbing after something like this. Quitting climbing would be doing Eric’s memory a great disservice. If death is what befalls us, it’s because we chose to do something that we love. And Eric loved climbing because he loved freedom; he existed on his own terms and believed in infinite possibilities. I need to believe in infinite possibilities because, for me, it’s what makes life and climbing relevant.

    He was a good climber, but more than that, Eric illuminated in a mysterious, visionary, and, ultimately, hopeful manner the constant divisions in our hearts that make us so very human. His words often articulated what all of us are yearning for: a meaningful camaraderie with a preposterous and beautiful world. And for right now, I’m simply grateful to have been a part of it.

    “Get outside. It’s where the good stuff is happening.”

    In loving memory of Eric Klimt

    (February 8, 1980 – March 9, 2016)

    Kathy Karlo is a former van-dweller, baker, and blogger at For the Love of Climbing. Hailing from New York City, she spent a year journeying across America and exploring mountains and deserts. You can find her napping on rocks, shoving herself in wide cracks, or harassing dogs. More of her work can be found at www.fortheloveofclimbing.com.

    This piece is an excerpt from Volume 9, to read the full piece, check out our print version, available online, at indie bookstores and gear shops and select big box retailers across the U.S. and Canada. The Kindle version is also now available. 

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


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

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

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    Reflections in The Black by Vic Zeilman

    Nov 16 • Locations • 363 Views

    The following is a preview of Vic Zeilman’s piece “Reflections In The Black”, written for the recently released Volume 9, The New School Issue. 

    The black-and-white photograph is small and square, half a century old, showing my grandmother posing in front of the dark, mysterious walls of the Black Canyon. As I study the image, I quickly realize that she is witnessing a time period in 1961 when there is not a single documented rock climb of any significance in a fifteen-mile stretch of vertical wilderness. She is looking at the largest cliffs in Colorado, and they are still completely untouched.

    The author's grandmother, Dotty Zeilman at the South Rim of the Black Canyon in 1961. Photo: Zeilman family collection.

    The author’s grandmother, Dotty Zeilman at the South Rim of the Black Canyon in 1961. Photo: Zeilman family collection.

    The vintage photo takes me by surprise. It is indeed my grandma, frozen in time, preserved in faded ink. She is twentysomething, very pregnant, standing with (what has to be) my toddler of an uncle and unborn father at one of the overlooks at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Western Colorado. This is my home turf. I would recognize it anywhere.

    I’m sitting cross-legged on the carpet with a half-empty, lukewarm beer, thumbing through boxes of old photo albums. The June heat in rural Ohio is oppressive, and for miles around me in every direction, vast fields of corn and other crops extend to the horizon line, as far as the eye can see. We have traveled from across the country to say good-bye to my grandmother, the matriarch of our family. She is sick, and this time it doesn’t look like she will be getting better. Sadness hangs in the air as thick as the Midwestern humidity.

    I examine the photograph again. Printed on the right edge is the date AUG – 61. I knew that my grandparents had lived in the Gunnison Valley in 1961, when my grandfather worked for a brief stint as an art professor at Western State College. I remember hearing about his stories of Gunnison back in the day, when they might change the price of gasoline for those with out-of-state plates on their cars. The town epitomized an East Coast perception of the Wild West. There were ranchers, rodeos, and saloon-style buildings on the downtown main street, the same piece of earth that infamous cowboys, outlaws, and lawmen had once passed over.

    An aerial shot of The Black Canyon. Photo: Vic Zeilman

    An aerial shot of The Black Canyon. Photo: Vic Zeilman

    An ambitious railroad and prosperous mining industry had long ago seen boom and bust, and an eclectic mountain culture of adventurers, dreamers, and artists was taking root. The pristine waters of the Gunnison River had not yet been dammed, creating what is now Blue Mesa Reservoir. There was no ski area in Crested Butte. No one was mountain biking. This was a cold, isolated cow town in the Colorado boonies, and Black Canyon National Monument was on few people’s radar.

    I think about the past three years, how I have been working diligently on a new climbing guidebook for the Black Canyon, and now this photo seems to strike a chord somewhere deep. It is hard evidence of a family connection to this inspirational place, decades before I would ever lay eyes on it myself, or stand at the bottom of those massive cliffs that would ultimately change the course of my life forever.

    I lean backward on the carpet, stretching my legs, and sip the dregs of the bottle. I wonder whether I would have discovered the Black Canyon in the same way if my grandparents had never been in Gunnison. Would I have eventually stumbled across this place, which means so much to me now, if some shallow roots had never been planted there decades before I was even born? I have always believed that so many events in life seem to have a strange way of coming full circle. Like portions of our history are written for us before we ever take our first breaths.

    The author of Diagonal Will. Photo: Jonathan Schaffer

    The author of Diagonal Will. Photo: Jonathan Schaffer

    Most climbers only know the Black Canyon by its frightful and unwelcoming reputation—an intimidating big wall climbing venue, alpine in nature, with stiff ratings, traditional ethics, and terrain challenges that are as unique as the landscape itself. Chossy rock as old as time, marred by thick bands of loose pegmatite, steep approach drainages filled with poison ivy thickets, vampire-like ticks, chupacabras, and god knows what else. Death-defying runouts, bushy cracks, hellish heat, and a phenomenon that only happens in the vicinity of the Gunnison River—regardless of the time you start climbing, you will finish in the dark, guaranteed. The lucky few that escape the canyon’s clutches each year will spread the word and warn the others. At least that was my impression of the place when I first heard about it years ago as an impressionable and novice climber.

    This piece is an excerpt from Volume 9, to read the full piece, check out our print version, available online, at indie bookstores and gear shops and select big box retailers across the U.S. and Canada. The Kindle version is also now available. 

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    Climbing Past War by Stacy Bare

    Nov 9 • Locations • 4081 Views

    The uninitiated, those who don’t climb, always ask me why I do. I normally begin my response with the statement that I don’t climb enough. I’m a marginal climber at best and am thankful for many far superior climbing partners who humor me struggling up 5.7s and 5.8s on their off days from crushing double digit decimals and multipitch routes. But I don’t get into the specifics with the casual observer. The second part of my answer depends on how much time I have. If I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to chat, I’ll say, “because its awesome,” a slightly more updated version of George Mallory’s response of “because its there,” when asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest.

    by Stacy Bare (note this piece was originally published in Volume 5, The Dirtbag Issue)

    Banner photo by Chris Kassar

    If I have more time though, I’ll respond with the truth, which is pretty simple. Without climbing, I’d be dead or in jail. I came to climbing a couple of years after I came home from the Iraq War in 2007. Two years of hard play with cocaine and alcohol, a life mostly divided from the life I lived publicly and even intimately. Few people, outside of some close friends and an expanding network of strangers, knew how I spent hours of my days. I was also in graduate school, which allowed me to repress my trauma long enough that I came to believe in an illusion that upon graduation, I would vault myself into the upper middle class. I would become a brilliant designer who wore increasingly stylish glasses frames and daring, well tailored suits housed in my loft style condominium.

    Me & Kids flexing

    I spent the four years prior to graduate school in war zones attempting to cleanup the mess others had left behind. I had been hot, sweaty, and smelly. I slept where I could, sometimes cold, and sometimes hungry. I rarely had all the equipment I needed and made do with the camaraderie, laughter, and hard work of friends and comrades. It was a charmed life indeed; a sort of grown-up, real world version of Never Never Land with brutal consequences if and when we failed in our mission. Who could deny my dreams of fine linens now that I was out of war?

    The economic crash of 2008, combined with a move to Colorado, where my then girlfriend did not want to go, to take up a job as a non-profit administrator, put those dreams on hold and ultimately led me to an investing strategy prioritizing carabiners over mutual funds.

    As a kid, I loved to blow stuff up and play in the dirt. When I was very little, my mother tells a story of how, when I was playing outside, specifically in the sandbox, I would never cry when I crapped my diaper. I did not want to miss anything outside. Conversely, if I dirtied my drawers inside, I would scream like a wounded cat. Not surprisingly, I hated taking baths and going to bed. Outside of the Fourth of July, there were few opportunities to really blow things up but plenty to get dirty. As it was, my brother and I made the most of the sacred, patriotic holiday that is the Fourth of July.

    Bottle rockets and cardboard tanks were the preferred fireworks for this great day. Early on we got bored of the imprecise mortar-style attacks that occurred when you launched bottle rockets from actual bottles. We soon learned the trick of lighting the rocket, waiting for the wick to burn down a bit and then hurling it near your opponent. This style of attack brought with it more running, more cussing, and greater opportunity for serious injury. I remember one summer being glad Mike Randall had thick glasses. I am not sure his eyes would have survived without them. Those coke bottle lenses seemed to attract bottle rockets more that year than others.

    For more direct and immediate warfare, you could line up entire cardboard tank platoons across from another, light the fuses at the rear of the tanks and have your very own full on armor battle before your eyes. I remember one particularly distressing Fourth of July in the mid-80s. We had spent all day at my cousins’ an hour south of town. We got home well after dark, but rather than putting us to bed, Dad broke out ten remaining tanks from a hiding place. My brother and I then lined up with sparklers ready for a final, epic show down of good (me) vs. evil (my brother Ben).

    My tanks failed miserably. Three out of the five sat burning in the night. Good had lost. I choked back tears in the glow of a front porch light illuminating the crushing defeat of good on the curved driveway of my youth that played host to a number of other showdowns between good and evil.

    Stacy receiving the Bronze Star.

    Stacy receiving the Bronze Star.

    About the time I turned twenty-two I was finally bigger than evil, but at that point my brother had his own platoon of infantry in the Connecticut National Guard and I was a brand new Second Lieutenant with no troops yet of my own.

    With the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I can see in my defeat on that Fourth of July a number of pathways that opened to me. At the time, I only saw where I was headed with one foot in front of the other. However, I can lay out three other choices, besides joining the Army, that would have been entirely logical following my defeat at the failed driveway offensive: pacifism, delinquency and dirtbagging.

    Pacifism: Pacifism may have been the most logical path for me to follow. I ultimately could not hold back the tears of my defeat in battle. I was eight and mired in the middle of a multi-year losing streak to my big brother. Why did my tanks have to burn? No doubt, I had created an elaborate backstory for the men fighting in those tanks and as they burned on the driveway, their dreams, as well as mine, went up in smoke. My Mother would caution me in later years against attending a service academy or joining the Army because I was too sensitive. Not until I returned from a poorly planned (Executive branch, Congress and senior brass) yet well executed (ground troops, junior officers, mid-level non-commissioned officers) war in Iraq, would I begin to seriously consider pacifism as a life path.

    Delinquency: I could have given up on tanks in the driveway and focused exclusively on those things I was really good at, like timing just when to throw a bottle rocket after lit to have maximum efficacy on targets like Mike, old barns, and unsuspecting ground squirrels. Veering off towards a life of petty crime and bigger explosives would not have been a shock. Additionally, my hatred for bathing has continued through to today and truancy would have seemed a friendly partner to my growing delinquency.

    Fortunately or unfortunately, both of my parents were teachers and stamped out aspirations of my becoming a delinquent truant whenever these twin virtues raised their heads. It is also likely I would have joined the Uniformed Services at some point even if I had followed this path more directly. For better or worse, the military attracts, even encourages, those who were troublemakers earlier in life to sign up.

    Dirtbagging: Unlike pacifism or delinquency, dirtbagging is harder to define and it means different things for different people. For the purpose of this piece however, I think its fair to say that dirtbagging involves sacrificing almost anything to the altar of the stoke, in this case climbing. One forsakes housing, steady employment, bathing, relationships, and even things the rest of the world thinks of as necessary like cell phones and regular e-mail communications to climb ever higher, harder, more obscure routes.

    Stacy, the tree hugger

    Stacy, the tree hugger

    Dirtbags live on the fringe of society and may be viewed as not contributing to society at all in their endless pursuit of that perfect line.

    My cousin, in her own way, modeled the dirtbag lifestyle for me in her pursuit of the Grateful Dead. She escaped social norms and pursued the endless jam of Jerry Garcia and Boys right up until Jerry died. We were close as younger kids and drifted apart during those years, in part because I did not want to smell like she did. Dirtbags of any kind, Deadheads or not, all have a sort of common stench that attaches itself to your clothes over time. It was the patchouli overtones wafting up to greet my nose hours after we separated that bothered me the most.

    In the end, I did not want to smell like she did and I was too much of a weenie to really defy social norms and expectations from my parents. Delinquency and a path to dirtbagging would not be in my future. Shortly after my Fourth of July defeat, my grandfather, who had been a Navy WW2 veteran, died. I began to idolize him post mortem in a way I never had when he was living and had that strange scent of old people and formaldehyde that makes it difficult for kids to sometimes connect with their elders.

    I would spend hours staring at an old Korean War era set of encyclopedias we had learning about both the Korean War (as it was happening in my mind) and past military victories. My mind was made up, as soon as I was old enough, I would join the Navy. What is more, I wanted to join the Navy and be not just like my Granddad, but also like Jack Kennedy and command a PT Boat.

    Unfortunately, when the time came to pick a service the Navy told me I was too tall and needed a medical waiver to get in. The Army however, was excited that I was breathing and interested in offering me a commission. So, at the age of seventeen, my father signed my enlistment paperwork on my behalf (you cannot enlist on your own until your eighteenth birthday) and I became a cadet in the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Mississippi. I would graduate and owe eight years of my life to the Army, or I would not graduate and still owe eight years of my life to the Army.

    Fortunately, I graduated.

    The Army does two things incredibly well for an individual like me: it legitimizes the kind of delinquency where you get to blow things up and it gives form and function, even honor to the dirtbag lifestyle.

    I have never slept as rough as a climber as I did in the military. Days on end without showers where your stench became a badge of honor; endless reapplications of greasy face paint; sleeping curled up with your battle buddy under a thin layer of polyester that was your poncho liner; keeping silent when you dove for cover only to find a horde of biting ants with more ferocity than all the orcs of Mordor. And in between: the firepower, the explosions, the joy of throwing a hand grenade or switching the selector switch from safe to semi to burst on your rifle. It was awesome and it paid pretty well for a twenty-two year old kid with a philosophy degree from a state school.

    In real war, above and beyond the training I describe above, there is a rush, a surge of adrenaline unlike anything. The withdrawal of which, the post firefight come down or hangover is also unlike anything I ever felt before. And the men and women who are with you when it all happens? That’s teamwork. Fuck a state title in high school football with last minute heroics: IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and small arms attacks are the truth. The first time you see a man get cut in half by three well-placed .50 cal rounds at the waist is a moment you’ll never forget. Awe, inspiration, excitement, and only later, maybe minutes, maybe years, maybe never, a questioning of the rightness of war and your role in bringing death to the enemy. The enemy frustratingly looks a lot like you do. He has two legs, two arms, a head and neck. It makes the act of violence, or watching the acts of violence, a bit more difficult to stomach.


    The dirty secret, as you may have guessed by now and first reported in this generation through Sebastian Junger’s book War, is that combat can be incredibly fun. Many people will disagree with me, even be disappointed in this statement. Many people will have had a different experience than I, but many, I would argue most, who have been through a few firefights will agree that combat is the ultimate thrill ride. Perhaps I was never in enough combat; never saw enough death or enough carnage to get tired of the ride.

    And still, despite the rush, every morning as I rolled out of my bunk, I was afraid. I was afraid I would die. I was afraid my soldiers might die. I was worried about getting hit, I was worried about the collateral damage of kids and women and old men who might get in the way if the shit hit the fan. But when it happened, brothers and sisters, I’m here to tell you: I’ve never felt more alive.

    On the other hand, garrison, and by extension, staff jobs in the Army, drove me nuts. I was absolutely homicidal during a six-month stint on a Battalion and Brigade staff when I first got to Iraq. One of my earliest evaluations in the Army told the world I was good in the field but a potential discipline problem in garrison. Finally, at age twenty-seven, I had become the delinquent my eight-year-old self was too weak to become. And while the Army wanted some of that delinquent edge and some of that dirtbag romanticism in all its members, I was on the verge of taking it to far for their comfort. So, when the time came, I walked away.

    Standing on an empty curbside at Bradley International in Hartford, Connecticut, three weeks removed from my last firefight and waiting for my brother to pick me up, I was lost. War had condensed my life experience so much that I evolved, like all warriors do, far faster than my peers. In the rush of combat, you move quickly through the baser and nobler aspects of humanity that those who do not go to war rarely experience. Whether or not you have time to process the changes completely, intuitively you have aged in spirit and mind, body and soul.

    Coming home, the sense of fit and belonging I had in war, perhaps the ultimate stoke, was missing and I wasn’t sure how to move on. What hurt the most was that most of America didn’t seem to care. While my generation of veterans has had a better public welcome than any generation since WW2, yellow ribbon car magnets, free baseball tickets, and discounts for appetizers and oil changes on Veterans Day do not translate into empathy. For the record, showing pictures of eagles in front of the America flag, playing Lee Greenwood’s greatest hits, or buying free shots for every kid you see with a short hair cut in an airport bar, also does not translate into an effective welcome home.

    I came home mostly intact physically. My shoulders were hunched, I had a few more dings in my skull and a lump in my collarbone a doctor would later tell me was a serious fracture that healed poorly, but everything was still connected. All the same, I was a mess. I did not feel normal and I certainly did not feel ok. I don’t blame my family and friends. They kept me alive through the process. They were all, in their own way Saints and Angels.

    But I defied them with my addictions, my depression, and my dreams of suicide. I wanted to go back to war or I wanted to fade into the darkness you see at the end of old movies. When the reel was run all the way through the film projector, there are a few audible flips, the whir of the twin reels, and then just a bright light on a blank screen. That’s what I wanted more than anything but I was either not courageous enough to make that final decision or somewhere inside of me, I believed I had something else for which to live.

    In 2009, I found a job in Boulder, Colorado and moved west from Philadelphia where I had ultimately landed when I came home in 07. I never told my girlfriend at the time, but every morning I wrestled with myself to see if I couldn’t take myself to that big bright white light. Day after day though, to paraphrase from the band Frightened Rabbit’s song Floating in the Forth “I chose to save suicide for the next rainy day.”

    I called my buddy Chuck, who was a retired Green Beret and had been a contractor in my office when I was a staff monkey in Baghdad, to complain to him about my life on a pretty regular basis. I wanted to die or I wanted to go back in. Life sucked. Neither, Chuck or I do well on the phone. We sometimes even sit awkwardly quiet now when we hang out. When he does call, his girlfriend makes him put it on speaker and she does most of the talking. I can only imagine how painful these calls were for him.

    Finally, tired of listening to the same story and repeating it back to me from his own life, he told me to buck up and do something about it. There is no way this is the prescribed protocol in any sort of psychological textbook. But it worked. The way I remember it, and he remembers it differently, he gave me the options to end it all, re-up, or meet him at the First Flatiron in Boulder in two weeks time. I chose to go climbing.

    I had two weeks to find a pair of size 15 climbing shoes. Only one company at the time makes a shoe so big, maybe two do now, but good luck finding trad shoes. Evidently if you have gigantic feet, you are born to sport climb. They’re really just an enlarged pair of size 9s and don’t have any extra support or stitching that the size of person who would wear them (I was 6’8” and 265 pounds at the time) would need. But they fit as all climbing shoes fit with a degree of discomfort and pain.

    In the military, you get pretty good at faking your way through what you don’t know how to do. Your first combat patrol, your first gunfight, and the first time a mortar round falls close by. You may have trained for it, but you never really know how you will act until it happens. You fake through it the first time the best you can and from their real experience builds. I think its one of the reasons that many service members and veterans are hesitant to learn new technical skills outside of the military context, because you can end up looking like a fool.

    No one looks like a fool when they run and jump for cover at the first mortar blast, but there are times in climbing where, no matter how good you get, you’ll like a complete moron. That’s part of the joy of climbing, that effacing, equalizing quality of rock that can happen from 5.4 to 5.14, but when learning, you’re worried, or I was, about the judgment of everyone else around you who evidently never struggled on anything less than a 5.11c route.

    Walking up the trail from the parking lot to the base of the First Flatiron, I had all the butterflies in my stomach I had when I first went to the rifle range right after my eighteenth birthday. The only difference being that I thought everyone else knew what they were doing. Hikers past us, and in my mind, looked on with a bit of jealousy and whimsical wish they were as awesome as we were, off to climb on the rock. I hoped they would continue down the opposite way we were heading, as I did not want to be exposed as a fraud.

    I had taken the morning off of work to climb without any telling anyone and was horrified I’d run into someone I knew. But what would they say? It was like the time I ran into a pastor at the bar. He was an associate pastor at the Southern Baptist church where I led a bible study. Are you guilty when you meet someone in that situation, or are you recognizing just how free you both really are?

    When we got to the base of the climb, I was all thumbs and thick tongues. I could not tie a knot and could not express what was going on in my head. I had some experience with tying into a rappel rope and making my own Swiss seat from Army days, even doing a bit of plastic rock tower climbing, but this was a whole new experience. I take great joy now in telling new climbers that I’ve been diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) and sometimes struggle with sequencing and short term memory loss, but at the time, I had no idea why I could not get anything right. All I could think of as positive was that I did not have to twist strands of sketchy, twine like rope around my testicles and be hurled off of a wall by a gruff Army sergeant who had killed kittens for amusement in his youth.

    It was a hot day in the dog days of September and the cool in the shade of the climb quickly gave way to the hot sun radiating off of the granite and back into my face. The start of the climb is the trickiest bit, all friction and slabs. All fear of falling and ending your life twenty feet above the ground in a town full of hippies only two years after making it through the surge in Iraq. It was humiliating and it was awesome.

    By the second pitch, I had more or less stopped yelling, “falling” every time I was nervous about falling. My hands and feet began to work together. By the third pitch I was mostly breathing on my own without a constant reminder from Chuck. By the fourth pitch, I was Elvis legging my way up bomber holds and learned I could hold onto the rock without the strength of trying to hand squeeze eviscerated lemons. By the fifth pitch, we recognized we were horribly off route to get to the top of the climb, but gave ourselves one more pitch to a rappel station. My mind shut down at this point and became a place where only sensory information mattered. The world slowed down.

    I could hear, and can still see each of the fingers on my right hand find a hold at eye level. A sound like a bird flapping its wings in the middle of a deep fog, as each pad on the tips of my fingers found comfortable seating on a tiny ledge. The smallest particles of chalk puffing up through the air. My breath dry and ragged, not joyous, not strained, just dry and ragged. My head turned down to the left and watched with borderline confusion as my left hand reached up with no such signal being directed from my brain.

    My left hand slapped once, twice, found a hold and I heaved up, as all new climbers do, straining my shoulders rather than pushing off with my right foot. Chuck’s head, haloed in his ginger head above me was a blur as I swung back down to find a hold for my right foot. My left foot found a bomber step next and with the next move I reached up only to feel Chuck’s hand slap into my own. I was elated and the world sped back up to every day speed.

    This sequence has become a dream repeated through many nights. It represents nothing I think but the subconscious desire for pure elemental movement, spiritual ecstasy. My mind and body moved through the intense physical and mental exertion necessary to get to a fine focus into something deep and clean, only to be wrenched back into reality with the sound of laughter and encouragement.

    Leaning against a rock, the Boulder Valley spreading before me, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches never tasting so good as they did right then. I was alive and I had not been able to say that without doubt for some time. I thought I had found the answer. And in repeated climbs in Colorado, out in Joshua Tree, up snow and ice in the San Juans and New Hampshire, and now at my home crags in the Wasatch Range, and to a far lesser extent in the sanitized oil and plastic dependent indoor gyms, I find it again and again.

    Stacy ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado. Photo: Lourdes Izziray

    Stacy ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado. Photo: Lourdes Izziray

    There’s something about getting vertical and scaring the crap out of yourself, trusting completely in another person should you fail to make the next safe hold, that helps the mind forget, just for a moment, past traumas, even while carrying the capacity, the limitless possibilities of discovering new trauma. It was not until I looked back on our climb did I realize that for the duration of my time on the rock I was not feeling guilty for being home while others were still at war. I was not feeling ashamed that I was struggling with my trauma from one year of war and relatively few combat experiences while others were dealing with multiple tours and battles like Falujah, Ramadhi, or Anaconda vs. the few skirmishes I encountered. I was not wishing for death and the accompanying silence, but reveling instead in each hold and foot placement made, the heat of the sun on the rock, and the welcome clap of Chuck’s hand on my back as I made it to belay station after belay station.

    Both complete mindfulness and mindlessness, I was fully in the moment on the rock that day. I knew it then too. I knew that if others like me, others from war zones and traumas from disasters or just the grinding down of everyday living in this world could climb rocks; the world would be a more peaceful place. It is true of course that you can take any maxim of joy, any revelation of pure goodness and corrupt it into something evil. Certainly climbers do that, but at the fundamental level, climbing connects you to something so much bigger than yourself, while at the same time disconnecting you from the never ending static and noise of the world around you, that it is perhaps the closest thing to pure expression we can ever hope to attain.

    Each climbing line is ephemeral and artistic and then it is gone. To have witnessed someone climb is to witness an act of creation, destruction, achievement, and at times failure all at once. Where else can that happen? I truly believe if the world climbed, if the entire world got vertical, we may not have the need for more wars because we would understand. We would understand that thing which happens every now and again to all climbers, that thing, which cannot be quite explained to those who have never climbed. We would live in the moment.

    Even better perhaps, climbing filled a whole inside of me that had been there since at least returning home from war. It replicated much of what was good from war, the camaraderie, and sense of purpose, mission, and warrior spirit. People talk of the brotherhood of the rope. It’s as close I’ve ever found to the brotherhood wrought by fire and hot lead.

    I wanted to climb forever. I wanted my calves to stop shaking (I am an Elvis climber) and my fingers to unclench. I wanted to buy a van, a full rack, and hit the road. But I didn’t. For one, I lived in Boulder. Two, I was still the same kid who was too afraid to take his delinquency without the legitimization of a larger organization, and three, I enjoyed my apartment, my new duvet, and a pay check that gave me a healthy diet of free range chicken and kale.

    Three years on, I still haven’t dropped out of society, bought a Vanagon and hit the road. Not unlike suicide in the mornings, which I put off for another day, dirtbagging is what I think about in the afternoon with a whole separate host of consequences. I think one of the main reasons I don’t drop out is because I really do love my job. My edges have dulled a bit in the nearly five and a half years I’ve been home now. My sides aren’t what I’d call fat, but they are not what I’d call svelte either.

    Climbing saved my life, and, if I’m lucky, a few times a month, it ensures I have a great day. And while I’m on a route, when I’ve pushed myself harder than I’ve been pushed before and make a move I never thought I’d be able to make, all there is, is the climb. When I rap down that route, I think about committing all I have to the pursuit of that stoke. And maybe I will, maybe someday, when all else fades away. But for now, I’ll take my free range chicken, my warm duvet, and the wing back chair where I’ve done most of the writing for this piece. Then again, I think I could fit this chair into the back of a broke down diesel van.

    Stacy Bare received a Bronze Star for meritorious service in Iraq and began climbing to deal with addiction, depression, and suicidal tendencies. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and new baby daughter. 

    Bare has recently launched the project, “Make Adventure, Not War”. 

    This piece was originally published in Volume 5, The Dirtbag Issue, available in print and on Kindle.

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

    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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  • Last Thoughts On The Dirtbag from Cairns Film on Vimeo.

    Last Thoughts on The Dirtbag, A Short Film

    Nov 7 • Locations • 1092 Views

    Two years ago I pitched an idea about a film I really had nothing more than a spark of an idea for to Greg Cairns. I’d seen Cedar Wright and James Lucas’s “The Last Dirtbag” and felt compelled to offer something of my own to this “conversation” about dirtbags and whether or not any real ones exist anymore.

    by Luke Mehall

    Of course the question is bullshit, people still live in the dirt, out of bags, we have just entered a new era, one where technology can take away a lot of the mystery of climbing, and it is getting harder and harder to make extended stays on public land.

    In the end the question did not matter. What mattered was how I felt about my time as a dirtbag. I ended up structuring the piece I wrote to go with the film similarly to how Bob Dylan structured “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie“. Climbing and the characters I’ve met along the way mean everything.

    In the end I don’t care about the word dirtbag, it’s just a word. And our film, it’s just a film, but we labored over it in love, and I have a lot of love for our community. And I wrote this piece from the heart, and as a writer that is all I can aim for. I hope you enjoy it, as much as we enjoyed making it.

    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_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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  • As Long As Life Endures, A Climber Wedding (On The Hulk) a short film

    Nov 3 • Climbing Culture • 3549 Views

    We couldn’t have planned for how perfect this truly went. The weather for that whole week in July was bluebird sky, so we went for it. Cheyne Lempe, Drew Smith, Racquel Esqueda and Brian Kimball all met us in the parking lot for Annett’s Mono Village and marina at 10am. We picked up the trail behind the RV campground and hiked along Robinson Creek for about 2.5 miles, a very flat and wooded trail. We passed a grove of aspens and shortly after found the start to the climber’s trail, which would take us south into Little Slide Canyon. This is when the 3,000’ of elevation gain began – switchbacks and bushwhacking. Cheyne’s role was to document the ordeal and the ceremony. Drew was our officiate and Cheyne’s climbing partner. Racquel and Brian were close friends helping us carry in all our food.

    by Sara Aranda, banner photo by Cheyne Lempe

    Cheyne had amazing vision for the film. We had expressed the general flow of what we’d want and he took care of the rest. He’d see something or would strike inspiration and tell us to stand there and walk here, or tell me about this and that while I capture this amazing lighting right now, etc. This of course wasn’t his first wedding film, but he had definitely never done anything quite like this.


    Photo: Cheyne Lempe

    I hired him because I knew he had the talent to create what I was dreaming of, but he was also just a really nice guy I had met through mutual friends. We spent the first day hiking in and setting up camp, the whole time Cheyne was coming up with ways to capture our story. We stood on top of a small outcropping of rock, the evening waning behind us, holding hands or strolling about to Cheyne’s direction. We laughed at ourselves and sometimes felt shy, but the energy of the whole place was sublime. The Incredible Hulk had a mesmerizing presence, the granite so clean and geometric.

    I couldn’t believe that we were finally there, after half of a year of planning and preparation. But the reality of those six months was this: you can’t really plan, nor did I want to plan everything to the T. I was half treating it like a normal weekend climbing trip, and half accepting that it would be what it would turn out to be. I knew that the ceremony would happen no matter what, but the goal was to have it at the top. With work and a few injuries, I was a little nervous about how well I had prepared my body, but that was the perfectionist in me trying to dictate my future. I knew I was very capable of climbing the Red Dihedral, a 12-pitch route at 5.10b. So I let the raw, wind-filled air and the beauty of the alpenglow fill my heart with what we had come to feel: love.

    The next morning, it was time. But time had no meaning. We were without need, only want: to be there, and forever change ourselves. Drew and Cheyne started up before us, Drew was the rope-gun so Cheyne could film when he needed. Patrick and I free soloed up easy terrain to the start of a 5.8 roof. I tied in, breathing as deeply as I could. I would start us off. No pressure.

    But the climb went beautifully. The sun slowly made its away over us, and pitch after linked pitch we performed not only an adventurous dance, but a display of our bond as a couple. The symbolism of adaptation, of union, we felt went hand in hand to the art and experience of trad climbing. And to make things even more interesting, we were doing the route for the first time.

    We reached a false summit after 8 pitches and 7 hours, and decided to perform the ceremony there, in a shallow wind block, as we weren’t sure how the wind would be above. We discussed where and how, and I changed into a knee-length dress. Cheyne stood holding the camera out in front of him and Drew began. We all read from a short script I had composed, and when it was over, Cheyne laughed and excitedly exclaimed how he had never been so still in his life. The aura was surreal, frankly. We were at 11,100’ and it felt like the top of the world. If the stars were out, we could have plucked them like ripe mangoes, their fiery skins at first bitter, then sweet.

    We did it. We were married. We climbed our 9th and final pitch to the top, then descended into the sunset, amidst our euphoria, lost to the echoes of tumbling scree.

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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 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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