• Do Not Go Outside To Cry by Kathy Karlo

    Nov 15 • Locations • 1389 Views

    I see it being used all around me to describe women, often by other women: badass. I have always considered it to have a good connotation, as it implies confidence with a splash of style. Diverse, strong-willed women deserve an empowering word that delivers a heavy compliment—one that says, “She’s got things under control.” The implication is that a person owns who they are without question, completely in command of the direction they are heading in, or as one might say, “She’s a bad mama jama!”

    by Kathy Karlo (photos by Matthew Parent) 

    This piece is published in The Climbing Zine Volume 11, now available to order in our store. 

    My friend, Alex Theran, a fellow climber, shared her thoughts with me on the implications of being called a badass. She wrote, “I often plaster my social media with smiles. I erase the memories of very real struggles with a steady stream of upbeat posts and exclamation marks. I wonder if in doing that, I [am making other] women who do have a hard time think that they are failing and that they aren’t cut out for it. Whether ‘it’ is aid work or big wall climbing—messing up, underestimating yourself, overestimating yourself—it’s all part of the process of learning.”

    According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a badass is someone who is “ready to cause or get into trouble” or someone “of formidable strength and skill.” Urban Dictionary’s definition tells us that a badass is the “epitome of the American male.” Perhaps several years ago, given the context, it might not have been considered a compliment for women to be called badass; however, the word has undergone a regendering since its birth in the 1950s. While it once celebrated the gunslinging, booze-swigging, rebellious tough guy, badass is now being used to praise strong female characters who are generally bold in many, if not all, facets of life. Amid today’s Walter Whites, John Waynes, and Han Solos, we are seeing a rise in real-life public Katniss Everdeens, more than ever before.

    We have Steph Davis, Lynn Hill, Emily Harrington. We have Megan Hine, the daring woman behind Bear Grylls; Balkissa Chaibou, the ambitious sixteen-year-old who is campaigning to end forced marriage; Malala Yousafzai, who survived a gunshot to the head, defied the Taliban in Pakistan, and is a children’s and women’s right’s activist. Not to mention that we had a 2016 female presidential candidate for a major national party, US women flew home with more medals than men after the Olympics in Rio this past summer, and one of the strongest climbers in the world, Ashima Shiraishi, is a sixteen-year-old girl. Today, we continue to work on closing the pay gap between men and women, there are far less fictional designated damsels in distress, and there are more women now than ever before leading our legislative conversation toward real progress.


    There is no question about it: being labeled a badass is considered a heavy compliment. Personally, I have always found it flattering anytime someone has used that word to describe me. A badass is considered a tough and uncompromising person, and I can often be both of these things. However, by using this word, are we asking strong women to prove something? Was Alex right about failing to live up to such a high caliber—does the word badass create pressure to maintain that status? Does it create an unreasonable expectation of ourselves and of each other?

    Language shapes our perceptions and constructs the world we live in, right down to our internalized reactions. Expectations create a form of reality that isn’t actuality. Expectations are problematic because they can often be unrealistic, which leads to disappointment.

    In May of 2016, I went on a four-week expedition to Africa with an all-male team of three. Originally, I had declined the offer, aware that I did not possess the necessary skills for establishing a big wall first ascent. Everyone is afraid of big wall, I was told; it was ok to feel afraid. “You might not be a badass big wall climber when we are done. But you will be a big wall climber.”

    Though I have rarely been accused of being a fragile person, I felt a huge desire to demonstrate that I was as tough as every member of the team. Working alongside some of the best wall climbers, it was hard not to feel like a total badass by proxy. When asked to join the team, I was told that I had an admirably high tolerance of suffering, which would be crucial to establishing a big wall first ascent.

    When we first arrived at São Tomé and Príncipe, an African nation close to the equator, there was a constant buzz of excitement mingled with trepidation—my own. Traveling to a beautiful, remote island in Africa brought me back to memories of my trip to Tanzania, one year prior. My first trip to Africa did not change me in any of the ways I had been expecting; it prepared me. It prepared me to be uncomfortable, ask questions, listen, and be willing to learn.

    The culture of São Tomé was rich, colorful, and chaotic. The island is part of a volcano chain featuring a biodiverse jungle preserve and Pico Cão Grande, our objective. There are so few formations in the world like this, and we would be climbing one of the most remote ones. Pico Cão Grande, a needle-shaped plug on the south of São Tomé Island in Obo National Park, is perhaps even more impressive than the Devils Tower in Wyoming. The massive formation is surrounded by jungle and hidden in a constant thick fog of clouds. As far as we knew, nobody had summited its peak except for a local in 1972, by means of grappling hooks and a ladder system. The goal was to establish a free route, and although locals spoke of a Spanish team, that had been unsuccessful.

    The entire island and its people had an organized chaos to it, as well as a set of unspoken and unwritten rules. It was wild. I was impressed by the way the people of São Tomé lived off of the land. Even small, basic tasks seemed so much harder. It was a primal way of living, much more than anything I’d experienced being on the road solo for a year.

    Portrait of the author by Matthew Parent

    The women, especially, in Africa are beautiful and bold in a way words will never do justice. They are warrior women, and as we charged down the narrow road in our beast of a Land Cruiser, I closed my eyes and wished I could be like that. We drove on, and my feelings of apprehension accrued as the women grew smaller in the distance, babies strapped to their backs in colorful swaddles, heavy baskets balanced precariously atop their heads, and machetes that could cut your limbs clear off hanging innocently at their sides.

    I began questioning why I said yes to an expedition in the first place. I reminded myself that I wasn’t recruited for my aid climbing skills or rigging abilities, nor did I climb 5.13 limestone. In fact, those were all things I was unqualified for, but that’s why I agreed—to experience something new. To take advantage of an opportunity that I would probably never have again and that 99 percent of people would never get in the first place. Our first night at basecamp, the team leader told me to throw my feelings of inadequacy out the window and said, “I asked you here because I knew what you were capable of.”

    However, expecting to learn how to big wall climb on a big wall expedition and be good at it was completely unrealistic. Big wall climbing came easily to the team; meanwhile, everything I did, from cleaning pitches to jugging fixed lines, was comparatively slow. Trundling massive death blocks into the jungle and hauling bags was grueling work, both physically and mentally, and I lacked the bandwidth for much of the labor required to get to the top. Toward the end, the difference between feeling twelve steps behind and being left behind became apparent, and I labeled myself a failure. Many times throughout the expedition, I refused to cry in front of the team. I would hold back tears. Over the course of several weeks, this left me spiraling down a very lonely path.

    Descending into the jungle to the wall, we often hiked with local guides. They knew the path well and did it gracefully (wearing flip flops instead of the Wellington boots we’d purchased for protection against snake bites), whereas I bumbled along the trail, lucky to have a pole for balance. I watched Mito, one of our guides, cut through the jungle, making new steps for us with his machete, as the old ones had been washed away in the rain. Trudging through the thick jungle felt like vertical swimming. Below the peak, the roots beneath the earth overtook the jungle floor, and because I was afraid of fumbling (and I did, often), I kept my eyes to the ground and was able to collect small mementos along the trail.

    I was starting to jug pitches faster but was still slow in comparison. The team was basically jugging hundreds and hundreds of feet, and I could not keep up. I tried to be meticulous with scrubbing (having never done this before, I wanted everything to be perfect, so I simply took too long). Everything I did was slow. Everything I did was stupid. I felt stupid. I felt awkward. I was inadequate, and I knew it, and the guys knew it; everybody knew it. Every day felt like full exhaustion, and I still wasn’t doing enough. Every night I closed my eyes and kept telling myself, With a little extra sleep and a little more determination in the morning, tomorrow will be a better day.

    It was something around a battery-charger malfunction that the entire dynamic of the group had shifted. It’s such a small thing, but the reality of being the only woman felt like an inconvenience. I was physically far away from everyone I knew and loved and started feeling it. From a distance, we had scoped out the peak with binoculars, and I remember watching the falcons floating through the sky; I have always wanted to be a bird (specifically a red-tailed hawk) and ride thermals all day, and in that moment, I wanted to be a bird and fly as far away as possible.

    One evening, as I was helping to fill a container with gasoline, some spilled on my hand. An hour later, I mentioned that it still smelled and was gruffly told not to complain about things you can change. A part of me felt like saying, “Look at all of the things I haven’t complained about yet!” Instead, I meekly said that I wasn’t trying to be a complainer, and I was sorry. I went to bed early.

    I sat at the belay one afternoon, nerves a wreck and feeling like crying and throwing up at the same time. I had never done a lower out before, and this one was huge. One of the team members instructed me how to by shouting from a pitch above, yelling at me not to bounce too much on the rope because they would surely cut. As quickly as the instructions had come, the voice disappeared, and as much as I tried not to panic, I hung at the belay, taking large gulps of air into my lungs.

    Photo: Matthew Parent

    I tried but was petrified, and I retreated. I rappelled back down to the ground and tried again the next morning. Even though I was successful, I wallowed in my failure that night at dinner. We ate breadfruit that the porters hiked in for us with olive oil and honey. As I munched the sweet, sticky bread, that isolated feeling crept in again and, this time, would not leave.

    In the end, the team leader told me that more was expected of me, and I was not allowed to climb and summit with the team. Instead, I waited at the base, alone and humiliated as I packed up what I could. A day later, a fifteen-pitch climb was established up Pico Cão Grande.

    During our good-byes at the airport, I thanked the leader for giving me an experience that gave me thicker skin. And I meant it in the most genuinely grateful way that I could. He did not reciprocate any kindness, and instead asked if I would go back to nannying. “You should. It’s easier.” Those words carved something out of me, and it cut, deep and slow.

    When I returned home, I struggled to describe the four weeks of jungle sufferfest. I wanted to share my story, but I didn’t want to reveal the truth. I didn’t want to write about my most vulnerable moments because it meant reliving painful failure. Not only that, but I was averse to asking myself why I felt like I couldn’t express these feelings when they had originally surfaced. I desperately wanted to leave behind huge times of embarrassment at how hard I had struggled and move on, but the second half of the story would always be missing. And so I sat at my computer, uncertain of being so transparent with not only my physical weaknesses but my emotional weaknesses as well. I sifted through hand-scribbled notes that were written alone on the jungle floor. I forced myself to capture my feelings as accurately as possible.

    Alex’s words prompted heavy questions: Why had I been so afraid in the first place? Why was I afraid to reveal parts of who I really was during such an important process? Had I been afraid of showing the world a softer side, or was I more afraid of showing the world that I wasn’t the hard woman I had perceived myself to be (and let myself be perceived by others)?

    Throughout my years climbing, I was accustomed to being the “cool” girl in the group, the one who gave no fucks, who tried hard, and at the end of the day, could outeat all of the guys at dinner. These distinguishing characteristics made it easy for me to make friends, and after the Africa expedition, I began to realize why. There is something very appealing about a woman who walks with her head held high, who exercises both strength and power, and in a sense, simply “acts like a man.” She is known as the “cool” girl, a persona that our patriarchal culture has many women feeling like they have to be. The “cool” girl can put back a few with her male counterparts. She laughs at the crude jokes and even makes a few of her own. She shows very little of her feelings, and if she has to cry, she goes outside.

    In her post, Theran touches on a complicated issue. She says, “The problem with being a ‘badass chick’ is that you tend to want the ‘badass’ designation to be louder than the ‘chick.’” Theran continues, “When you fail to live up to invincibility, it can be devastating.”

    The “cool girl” persona is something of concern. Shannon Kelly writes about this phenomenon in her essay titled, “An Epic Rant About Gone Girls Epic ‘Cool Girl’ Rant,” for Talking Points Memo, where she explains, “It may begin when we’re young and impressionable and want to make ourselves ‘attractive’ to boys — and the message that being Cool Girl will help you achieve Peak Attractive is everywhere (thank those socially awkward movie-writing men) — but then, what happens? When we grow up and see things in the workplace, in our own families, in society at large and in our own social circles that deserve being called out — rather than doing the calling, is Cool Girl’s pull so strong that, even in the face of the health or safety of our own daughters and sons, we’d rather play it cool? Is that why things don’t change?”

    The pressure to prove that, as women, we are as capable as men creates a tendency to internalize a message that tells us that to be strong means to be unbreakable—that being hardcore and showing your feelings cannot coincide. We live in a society that continuously tells us that feminine traits, while expressive and emotionally complex, will not let us succeed. As women continue to carve out a place for themselves in climbing history, there is still an unspoken undertone that we have to remain stoic. Whether or not it’s a self-imposed standard, it creates an immense pressure to downplay the stress, the flaws, and the fuckups.

    Professional rock climber Mary Harlan of Carbondale, Colorado, says that in all of her years climbing, female partners have been most harsh on themselves. “If we didn’t accomplish a goal, there tended to be more self-deprecating talk amongst the women versus the men.” The ability to own failure and really talk about it can be much harder for women because of a pre-existing stigma that women are the weaker gender. On failing, Harlan says, “It’s when I am failing and I’m falling apart that I start to realize that the world is trying to teach me something.”

    The more I explored what it meant to “act like a man,” the more the gender double-edged sword became revealed to me. Habitual dialogue filled with misogynistic comments such as “man up” or “don’t be so sensitive” is ingrained in our culture from an early age. We’ve heard people cry out, “Don’t be such a girl!” which translates directly to: “Women are weak.”

    The word badass reaches its limits in the sense that it implies that we must live up to invincibility. The truth is that we all have our breaking points, regardless of gender, and finding out what they are is what makes us human. Learning from our weak moments is humbling. Allowing ourselves to express our feelings is admitting vulnerability. In my eyes, there is nothing more badass than exposing a weakness.

    Photo: Matthew Parent

    Failure gives you depth. It gives you mental tenacity. It shatters the expectations we often feel trapped within, the expectations that our perceptions of ourselves create. Exposing our failures lets us fearlessly show the world that we are human. In celebrating those we consider badass, we tend to ignore emotional openness and whitewash over the tears. Let us continue to acknowledge and praise hard work, but remember that it takes more than that to reach a summit. Success doesn’t happen by accident. Nobody walks up the mountain to the top with a smile on their face the entire time, or without shedding a few tears, a little blood. Success is only half of the true story.

    In 2014, Hilary Clinton spoke at an event at New York University regarding leadership advice to women. Clinton shared a famous sentiment from Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1920s that expressed “if a woman wants to be involved in the public, she has to grow skin as thick as the hide of a rhinoceros.” Later, in an interview with Time, Clinton went on to elaborate: “So even back then, this was an obvious point of concern and contention. Too many young women are harder on themselves than circumstances warrant. They are too often selling themselves short.…But it is a process.”

    It is indeed a process and a slow road to progress. It is the kind of process that warrants many conversations about social categories—categories that come from an uneven gender landscape. We take the first step by acknowledging unfair social structures that women face before we can make any true progress.

    For fathers and mothers who have young sons and daughters: Teach your children that they need not fit the cookie-cutter mold of what society believes “strong” men and women look like. Show your daughters that they have a right to a safe place to express their emotional responses, whether it be in the workplace or in the mountains. Show your sons that it is ok to cry.

    It’s a tender road we find ourselves on, wanting to be both strong and flexible to those who are watching. As a female climber and a female in general, it becomes a balancing act—learning to be a strong and autonomous person while simultaneously embodying the softer, more vulnerable side of human emotions. I express great gratitude as I applaud a growing feminist society for taking a word once rooted in maleness and turning it into one that empowers women of all generations, but I also ask that we all remember that you can be fierce and vulnerable synchronously. There is no rule that says we must draw a line between the two.

    For women who aspire to be first ascensionists, climb big alpine walls, stumble upon uncharted paths: Continue pursuing higher elevations, but do not be afraid to struggle. Do not be shamed into downplaying emotions, especially in difficult moments. Do not go outside to cry. For women who feel outnumbered in their profession, who choose challenging career paths that are both physically and mentally demanding, who feel like showcasing “manliness” is the only way to succeed: Do not strive for less than what you know you can achieve by “manning up” to accommodate anybody. Strive for more, but do not sweep away your emotions. Instead, take your weak moments and turn them into inspiration. Do not go outside to cry.

    Author of the blog For the Love of Climbing, Kathy Karlo lives for rock climbing, brown-dog snugs, belly laughs, sharing doughnuts with strangers, positive vibes, and unplanned adventures. Between baking and loving on dogs, she is desperately trying not to kill the last few living basil plants in her apartment.

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $19.99 a year for three issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. 

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

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

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

    1 Comment on Do Not Go Outside To Cry by Kathy Karlo

    Read More
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Choss by Steve “Crusher” Bartlett

    Nov 14 • Locations • 421 Views


    Yes, it wobbled. Three feet high, one foot wide, a foot deep, probably outweighing me, the block sat at arm’s reach above my head. No way to avoid tangling with it—I was standing in aiders, hanging from a piton. I should bolt around it…

    by Steve “Crusher” Bartlett (Note: the full version of this piece, is our photo essay for Volume 11, now available in print. Click here to get a copy or to subscribe

    But, I pondered, if I made it fall, and in that moment before it built momentum, shoved it hard enough, maybe I could steer it clear of me. Maybe. I reached up, hammer in hand, wiggled the tip of my pick under the boulder. It began to move.

    Ground-up onsight climbing entails hoping for the best but being ready for anything. My favorite partners embrace this approach. One such is Strappo Hughes, who was belaying me on this occasion. Like me, he hails from the UK. Like me, he is of a certain age, mid–baby boomer vintage, born into post-war suburbia.

    My parents survived the Depression years to face yet greater trauma and dislocation during World War II. My father served in the Royal Navy, talked little of what he went through. My mother was born into poverty. Her own mother died soon after; her father, a soldier, was too poor to look after her and farmed her out to whoever would take her in. She never spoke of this, took her secrets to her grave. By the time I was born, my parents wanted no more struggle and adversity; they craved security, stability, a pretty garden, outward respectability. I was born into this, took it for granted. In my shy teens, I set fires, got into fights, dreamed of bigger horizons. Meanwhile, my mother grew inward, shedding friends, embracing an increasingly puritanical, repressed view of life: nothing mattered beyond outward appearances. She demanded conformity. My father acquiesced. I escaped in the same way my brother had, six years earlier: by studying hard, getting good grades, and going to college in a far-off town. Where, in turn, I joined the university’s mountaineering club and, in 1976, first embraced the fabulous uselessness of climbing steep, dangerous cliffs.

    Strappo Hughes at a belay on Mudstrosity. Photo by the author.

    By 2002, at age 45, rock climbing, perhaps not useless after all, had brought me to a different country, on a different continent, settled in Colorado, on my own terms, which included regular climbing trips to the Utah desert.

    Strappo and I, on this trip, were in the southern San Rafael Swell. This sector of the Swell is dead space on a map; people hurry through. Factory Butte is the local landmark. This colossal stack of debris topped by a wavy fin of shale looms 1,800 feet above the surrounding desolation: its dull-gray color and industrial-plant profile gave it its name. We were a dozen miles east, searching for a shapely tower I’d spotted a year earlier from Factory Butte’s summit. We wandered beneath a six-hundred-foot escarpment that blocked the April sun. To the north, dull slopes rose and fell half-heartedly. Silence enveloped us like an invisible mist. The tower, when we found it, was 250 feet tall, beige, steep, an upside-down ice-cream cone. It was guarded by a slope of dust and sand sparkling with gypsum flakes. No talus here—this formation was melting, not eroding, melting. Damn. I had been hoping for Fisher Towers–style sandstone. Neither of us had climbed anything quite like this—where were the cracks? Or flakes? Holds? But…it was unclimbed…

    There were some gypsum veins; one reached the ground near the west end of the south face, so we began there, Strappo first. Eighty feet up, the crack closed up tight. He placed a bolt, retreated. My turn.

    I jumared warily, eyeing up the pieces he’d placed, assessing their worth. To make the best of the bolt in the soft rock, I clipped a Screamer (a quickdraw with extra stitching designed to rip, progressively, if shock loaded, absorbing a fall’s impact forces) into the bolt, using two locking carabiners for peace of mind. Above, I tapped a couple of our tiniest pitons into the still-tight seam, then, mercifully, the crack opened up, allowing better and safer placements. A rhythm began: clean the surface crud, place a piece, step high, repeat. I tackled each step meticulously so the next could be stress free. Then, a subsidiary seam intersected mine. Where they met was a fractured zone. Atop a laptop-size ledge was the three-foot-tall boulder.

    With my hammer-pick tip, I worked the boulder to its tipping point. I warned Strappo to move far, far leftwards, out of the way. He pulled the ropes tight against me, to keep them away from the fall line. I leaned left, ropes in outstretched left hand. My right hand reached back up, nudged the rock one more time, and it toppled.

    Bomber? Photo by the author.

    Time slowed. The block moved fast. I had to move faster. With no conscious thought, my hand clamped itself on to the boulder, and assessed weight and trajectory. Like a spotter fielding a tumbling pebble-wrestler, I steered the beast. It brushed my shoulder, missed my legs (which were leaning right to counterbalance my upper body), arced gently past the ropes. A hundred feet below me, the boulder impacted—boom—and careened down the approach cone. An apocalyptic dust cloud enveloped me, Strappo, and our tower. I breathed again, yelled with release and relief. Strappo shuffled back into place below. Behind where the block had been was a fine crack; I got back to work.

    Higher—we were nearly out of rope—was an overhang. I still remember placing an upside-down #2 Friend in a too-shallow hole and fearfully swinging onto it, eyes closed, braced for the cam to explode from the weak rock, wondering how many of the pieces below would also rip out if it did. Dangling in space, I whacked a piton into unseen crud above my head. The fight to stand up above the overhang was followed by grimmer moves up a disintegrating chimney before I could beach myself on a ledge, place a good bolt, and yell, “Off belay!”

    In the Fisher Towers, this full-rope-length pitch would be a classic A3. Amid the vast San Rafael desert, the pitch—like the climb—is unrepeated, unknown. For all I know, the formation has melted into dust. But I know for sure the adventure Strappo and I shared still makes me smile.

    To check out the rest of Crusher’s photo essay pick up a copy of Volume 11 in print, or subscribe by clicking here. 

    Had Crusher known he’d live to be so old, he’d have climbed more dangerous climbs and ridden faster motorcycles. Otherwise he would not change a thing. He is the author of Desert Towers, a boisterous history of the select band of rock climbers who have thrived amid the chossy pinnacles of the Southwest.

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $19.99 a year for three issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. 

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

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

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


    No Comments on What We Talk About When We Talk About Choss by Steve “Crusher” Bartlett

    Read More
  • Silent Partners by Luke Mehall

    Nov 13 • Locations • 356 Views

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

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

    Banner photo: Adam Lawton in Indian Creek, circa 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $19.99 a year for three issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. 

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

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

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

    No Comments on Silent Partners by Luke Mehall

    Read More
  • An Excerpt from Chris Kalman’s “As Above, So Below”

    Nov 8 • Uncategorized • 317 Views

    Part 1

    He woke in darkness blinking, the memory of a bad dream clinging to the furrows of his mind like a dissipating residue. As his mind adjusted to waking life, he noticed the boy. His son. Aidan.

    The boy breathed softly beside him, still tussling with his unrelenting slumber. He was of that age. A plane crash would not wake him. Dave suspected the boy may be battling demons of his own, his fists clenched as they were tightly against his chin. Or was it just the cold? It must be two in the morning, Dave thought. There was no rush. The sun was sleeping over the horizon. But the sun would come up soon enough.

    by Chris Kalman, Senior Contributor (This piece is an excerpt from his upcoming book, As Above, So Below. He is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for the book, until November 15th. 

    How are you feeling, old man? He didn’t move a muscle.

    When he stirred again, it was time. He unzipped a corner of the tent door. The boy shifted against the starlight that rushed in. The glacier glowed an otherworldly white beneath them. The surface of the moon. The night air stung his face—not unpleasantly, he thought—and watered his eyes. He unzipped his sleeping bag, swung out his legs, removed the boots from the warm nook by his feet where they spent the night, put on pants over his longjohns, put on his boots, put on a fat down jacket, opened the tent door fully, and stepped outside.

    The sky was lightening to a deep violet when the boy emerged. The man was smoking a cigarette, melting snow on the stove. They wore lights strapped to their heads like spelunkers. In the beam of the old man’s light, bubbles formed on the bottom of the pot, rose to the surface, and popped. When he looked up at the stars, his breath rose through the headlamp’s haze like the sublimating clouds of vapor ever sheering off the summits of these jagged pinnacles.

    “How kind of you to join us,” Dave said, “I hope I didn’t disturb your beauty sleep.”

    The boy groaned, and mumbled a halfhearted reply. Teenager.

    They drank tea and ate oatmeal, their bodies warming within. Now and then a breeze kicked up, sending bits of ice skittering haphazardly along the hard crust of the snow. The sound was that of the feet of mice on a tile floor. Everything else was silent, and still. When the breeze came, you could feel it in your ears.

    They prepared their packs for the climb. The stove and the pot, the hardware, the ropes, a single sleeping bag to share, some dehydrated meals, more oats, tea, some trail mix and energy bars for the long day. Tobacco and papers for Dave. Extra webbing and cord for the rappel anchors. They tossed crampons and ice axes into the snow, zipped the tent shut, adjusted the guy lines, and set forth into the chilly predawn glow.


    The town of El Chalten had been bustling when they arrived. Dave hardly recognized it for the ramshackle collection of dilapidated houses and forlorn dirt roads he had visited decades ago. There were street lamps now. The road was paved. Painted signs and placards advertised all manner of goods and services: La Vinería, Domo Blanco, Supermercado la Tostadora Moderna, Hotel Laguna Torre, Walk Patagonia, Mountaineering Patagonia.Patagonia? This place had grocery stores, icecream shops, sightseeing tours, internet cafes, refugios, campgrounds, restaurantes, hospedajes, andferreterias. This wasn’t the Patagonia Dave recalled – this was a veritable metropolis.

    “It’s changed a lot,” people told him. But he hadn’t imagined this.

    Still, modernization has its advantages. Their arrival to the bustling town coincided with a week of bad weather. High winds and driving ice pummeled the serrated range. “In my day” Dave told Aidan between bites of cheese and meat-filled empanadas, “you just sat in an ice cave and waited for the wind to stop.” The boy very nearly yawned, having heard this spiel before. “We could always just go bouldering,” Aidan suggested, “I heard the bouldering is really good.” Yuck, Dave thought. Bouldering.

    Dave and Aidan interspersed grocery shopping, jogs, and bouldering sessions with long vigils in front of the computer. For hours they sat glued to the screen, refreshing weather forecasts at dial up speeds, plotting out their objective. If the temperature was cold, they should try a couloir; if warm, a sunny rock face. Other climbers—from modern day Messners to anonymous dreamers—deliberated in dark corners over mugs of coffee or glasses of beer. This pair or that would look up briefly to discuss some nuance of the forecast—say, the drop in wind speed from 3-6PM on Saturday—then back down to their illumined screens. From all over the world, climbers travelled here, apparently, to talk about the wind. Their faces poked out of down coats, perpetually cast in a bluish haze.

    On Wednesday, the forecast began to hint at a break. An array of windsocks and numbers showed a temporary abatement of the storm winds that had buffeted the range for weeks. Much to Aidan’s elation, it had been far too warm for ice to form up stably. That meant they would attempt a rock objective. The window of good weather was short, but adequate for a smash and grab attempt. After two days of clear skies and low winds a snowstorm would blow through, and the weather would turn south again. By then, though, they would be back in town celebrating.

    Of course all the other climbers saw the same forecast and the small town came alive with the buzz of commerce and preparations. Strange looking men and women rushed around from store to store, emptying the shelves of pasta, bread, tea, tobacco and anything resembling an energy bar. They spoke in Spanish and German, in Japanese and Korean, in English accents that neither Dave nor Aidan could decipher, though it was their native tongue. The store clerks loaded bag after bag, and in the guest houses and hostels names like Exocet, Cerro Torre and Fitzroy hung in the rafters like a haze of cigarette smoke.

    By nightfall, most of the climbers were gone, and the town was eerily quiet. Here and there, pairs of headlamps dotted the hillside, ascending towards the mountains like constellations in the night sky. As Dave and Aidan walked through thick forests of beech and pine, the clamor and cacophony of the busy afternoon faded into somber birdsongs, gurgling streams, and rustling leaves.

    “Why don’t we try the Cassarotto like the Germans?” Aidan asked, when they paused to drink and briefly rest.

    “Because, Aidan, think of the weather. It’s been so warm, and windy. The mountains will be falling apart. It would be foolish to climb beneath other parties – stones that have been there for thousands of years will be coming down the next few days.”

    “Don’t you think the Germans probably know that already? It’s not stopping them.”

    “Sure, the Germans know it. But the Germans are relying on luck. Or at least on being first. I wouldn’t rely on either.”


    Chris Kalman has been climbing, writing, and praising the mountains this river comes from for 15 years. You can read more of Kalman’s work at his blog, Fringes Folly: www.fringesfolly.comHe is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for As Above, So Below, until November 15th. 

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $19.99 a year for three issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. 

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

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

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

    No Comments on An Excerpt from Chris Kalman’s “As Above, So Below”

    Read More
  • Bad Climbing Daddy by D Scott Borden

    Nov 7 • Locations • 1285 Views

    My one-year-old and I are in Rocklands, South Africa, when I let a stinky one slip inside a bouldering cave, causing all the other climbers to turn and stare at me in disgust. I point to my unattended toddler, who has been screaming and running underneath them for the past hour, endangering everyone and causing a scene. “What?!” comes out of my mouth as I raise my shoulders in defiance. I’d rather be climbing without him on these classic highballs, feeling the rush of danger under my feet, answering to just my needs. It ain’t easy being a climbing parent—I wish I weren’t here too.

    Suddenly, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” I scream.

    A Grigri hitting my crotch startles me from my slumber. I was dreaming, napping in the boulder fields between reps, and now my toddler has smacked me in the junk with my belay device. He was well attended by our climbing group of friends, allowing me the opportunity to snag a snooze, but perhaps I deserved it. Cosmic karma for dreaming of being a bad climbing daddy?

    Bad Daddy

    1. a father who neglects his kid(s).

    Bad Climbing Daddy

    1. a father who neglects his kids to go climbing as much as possible and/or doesn’t consider the impacts to others of having a child at the crag.

    Let’s be clear, according to some people, if you climb, you are neglecting your kids. Or, if you die climbing, you are certainly a negligent parent, and the anonymous trolls on the internet are sure to tell your loved ones so. Let’s file that under jerks that don’t understand alternative lifestyles and weren’t cuddled enough as children.

    by D Scott Borden, Senior Contributor (this piece is printed in Volume 11, “Choss, Solos, and Reflection” Get your copy, or subscribe HERE) Banner photo: the author climbing Southern Man, Washington Column, Yosemite by Luke Mehall

    For those with a grip on reality, parenting is a balancing act between being yourself and worrying about your kid(s) 24/7. Sometimes it goes well, and sometimes a poop falls out of your kid’s pants onto the floor at a rest stop while you’re waiting in line to use the restroom (true story) on your way to a climbing weekend. That was awkward.

    Sometimes it looks like it’s going great, and then all heck breaks loose. Just last week I was climbing at our local crag with a fellow parent, Lindsey, and her little girl. As we climbed, our kids were playing at the base. I was putting up a new route and looked down only to see both kids without pants on (but still wearing helmets), and one was defecating in front of the other. By the time I came down, my kid, now two, had stepped in it (note, I’m not kidding—this is actually the second time this has happened). We put up a variation next to it after that with my fellow climbing parent leading the business.

    As she began to crux out, her three-year-old little girl laid down on a rock and demanded in a stern voice that my son give her a massage…where do they learn this stuff? We named the routes “No pants, no problem” and “Toddler massage,” as it seemed only fitting. Fortunately, we were able to recover in time to ensure it truly was “no problem” and no “toddler massage” occurred, but, geez, that was a close one.

    And then, of course, it can feel like it is going terribly and then turns around. I think back to a recent trip to Indian Creek where it was just my son and me. It was our first long trip together without Mom, and we set out late in the evening, determined to prove that dads can take care of two-year-olds just as well as moms. My hope was he would fall asleep in the car on the way out to the desert. I was wrong, very wrong.


    He’s in his car seat in the back as we drive through a mountain pass halfway between two towns. No cell coverage, icy roads, pitch dark and I start hearing loud gurgling noises coming from the back. What the hell is that? I think as I turn on the dome light and look in my mirror. He has what appears to be blood all over his mouth and down his shirt. He’s puking blood! We are in the middle of nowhere, and I’m going to watch this kid die are my first thoughts.

    Ok, assess the situation: could be a pulmonary edema from high altitude causing vomiting of blood, or he ate nuts, and is somehow puking blood from an allergic reaction. (Note: he’s allergic to nuts because the world is unfair). No, that doesn’t make sense; he would be in anaphylactic shock and just suffocate. Stop the car! Perform the ABCs, and take control of this situation.

    There is a snowplow in front of us. I know it is at least thirty minutes to a hospital whatever direction I drive, but that plow probably has a radio. It pulls over to let us pass, and I aggressively pull in front of it causing it to slam on its brakes. I bet the driver is pissed; I don’t care. I open the door as fast as possible and jump into the cold mountain air. I fling the little one’s door open and put my hands on his face to open his mouth to check for an Airway, Breathing, and eventually blood Circulation (ABCs). It smells terrible, like rotting vegetables and stomach acid. I ponder, What the heck are those chunks of red all over the place?

    Then it hits me, every muscle in my body relaxes, and I start to cry tears of joy. Beets. He ate beets prior to the drive, and all that red stuff is half-digested root vegetables coming up from the twisting mountain-pass roads. We drive to a friend’s house halfway to The Creek as the kid mutters over and over again, “Beets…akkie.”

    My god, I’m the worst father ever, I think to myself. We approach our friend’s door at 10:00 p.m. with little one covered in nastiness. “Hey, buddy, good to see you. Ummm…do you mind if I put this little guy in your bathtub?” Good friends are the best.

    We spend the night, and the next morning I have serious doubts about the realistic nature of this climbing trip. I can’t call his mom; she will call it all off for sure, but maybe that’s best. This decision is eating into me, negligence or prudence? I decide we will go to breakfast at a restaurant, and if he makes it through the meal in good spirits, we will go to the next town, jumping from human establishment to human establishment as checkpoints in determining if we can enjoy desert bliss or not. He seems very happy, keeping down his food and even climbing on the railings at the breakfast joint. This all despite the car reeking and his constant muttering, “Beets…akkie.”

    I guess we won’t be eating any more of those, and the car and the car seat will need a wash when we get home. But that doesn’t deter us as we drive in the afternoon sun, passing each test at the various towns and arriving in Indian Creek.

    The first night is cold…very cold. As we turn on the car to warm up at 3:00 a.m., I realize we are pushing it a bit, but snuggled in the same sleeping bag, he seems content. Together we camp and climb splitters with a group of folks whom we have just met for the first time. I don’t force my son to climb and instead allow him to get on rocks only if he wants. He is, as usual, desperate to go bouldering on every little rock he can. I spot him, never allowing him to get into threatening situations. When he has the inevitable meltdown, I place him in a baby carrier, and he falls asleep on my chest to the rhythm of my heartbeat.

    And mostly to his credit, the little one does great. He insists on helping carry firewood and pretends to pour everyone coffee in the mornings. Our new friends agree he is a real charmer, and they graciously help watch him at the crags as we rotate leads. Every day, our backpack is filled with a rack, harness, shoes, chalk bag, helmets (got to have a helmet for the kiddo), toys, extra kid snacks and water, sunscreen, and extra clothes (to build a nest for nap time and in case of a potty blowout). Half kid stuff and half climbing gear, the pack is a massive tower of pain. Thank goodness our new friends help carry our rope and some cams. It takes a village, or at least a tribe of dirtbag climbers. In the end, it all turned around amazingly. From imminent death to climbing bliss. It was a great bonding moment with my son. And we both got enough climbing done to feel satiated.


    And while that trip was well beyond expectations, I have to admit, like many other parents I know, sometimes I dream of being a bad climbing daddy. Dreams of climbing in Patagonia for months. Dreams of getting back on a big wall for a week. Dreams of climbing with his mom again for months on end in the Italian Alps. Dreams of soloing alpine granite high in the Sierra. Dreams of forcing my kid to train every day and love climbing so he can put the rope up for me someday. Dreams of having the freedom again to climb what I want, when I want.

    However, again, like many parents, I dream of these things and then have one of those heart-melting moments. It happened today, bouldering at our local crag. “Up, up, up!” my little boy yelled in excitement as he looked at the wall of rock in front of us.

    I put my dreams of uninterrupted sending for the day to the side so my munchkin could climb instead. I wouldn’t be doing the circuit I had planned out last night after all. “First World problems,” I say out loud. And anyways, that kid’s smile, enthusiasm, and cute hair have me spellbound. I would do whatever he said, and he said he wants to go up, up, up the rocks. Yeah, I can spot him and encourage him. As he smears and struggles his way up the tiny rock, I think, Life is pretty damn good. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

    Scott Borden, PhD, is a lecturer in the Environment and Sustainability Department and the Master’s in Environmental Management Programs at Western State Colorado University. He is the author of Squeak Goes Climbing in Yosemite National Park, a children’s book about all things climbing. Purchase a copy for a child you love HERE. 

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $19.99 a year for three issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. 

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

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

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

    1 Comment on Bad Climbing Daddy by D Scott Borden

    Read More
  • Creeksgiving: Rising In Flame/Out of Darkness/With The Sun by Sara Aranda

    Nov 6 • Locations • 448 Views

    Creeksgiving, 11.24.2016

    Hungry, fervent hyenas, eyeing the foil and fire, giggling with the steam and prospect of turkey. Side dishes begin to pop up around the table: sweet potato, mac and cheese, sausage vegetable medley, cornbread stuffing infused with mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, broccoli cheese, pumpkin pie. It’s all laid out to feast, and we’ve held our empty plates long enough, dammit. Fast and wide-eyed, we squeeze and bump our way to every dish and serving spoon—full plates and filling bellies.

    by Sara Aranda, Senior Contributor 

    (this piece is printed in Volume 11, “Choss, Solos, and Reflection” Get your copy, or subscribe HERE)  Banner photo: Mike Shaw 

    In a matter of minutes, fifteen people are gnawing and hovering the table scraps, dishes scraped, bits of food having rained the sand. The dogs bound and dart, sniffing, begging, excitedly barking, pecking their noses into the dark. This is pure gluttony in the desert—a celebration of community and enjoyment of what we’ve brought to share.

    We laugh around the fire, let the flames rise and snake into the wind. We lick our chops and our plates and pass the Carlo Rossi, pinky in the handle and butt of the jug in the crooks of our elbows. People pray for beer, and it comes in droves, cracking like whips in the wind. A lad named Zach decides to streak through other camps with just a rack of gear and a rope draping his body. Like a Spartan ready for war, he bellows, “Who will join me?” before running off with only shadows chasing his heels.

    Other camps stoke their fires and clap or shout in game and yip with stories I imagine are just as soul-wrenching as our own—every fire its own cosmic center of history, friendship, and love for the desert, her ancestral resonance, how the silence of hands that paint her walls still bleed as well as ours.

    I sit back, enjoy the warmth. The stars are crisp. The moon, a late riser. Time passes and people slowly quiet, crawl into their heads, and we wander into a waking dream of merriment. Sleepy eyes zone into the fiery center of our own universe; even the pups lay down their heads. Drifting to our tents, we let the drunken blackness take over. Frost creeps up to our cheeks, our eyelids; saliva freezes to our blankets, and we dream of wiry bodies baked red from the earth, climbing, climbing, always climbing.


    The sun is a clear disk rising over the chaos. Beer cans lie about the fire ring, most of them half-full and frozen. The pots and pans are as they were, left for the stars to lick leftovers with frost. The turkey lies stiff in its foil pan, an old carcass you’d find ravaged in the winter backwoods of Alaska. I quickly pick up all the trash I can and tidy our gluttonous wave of being. We are poor dirtbags again, aching and sore. Everyone slowly rises to peer, drearily, into their cooling coffee, the steam glancing their faces with warm fingers.

    Muddy, one of the pups, prances around the bushes—it’s another beautiful day, he barks to everyone rising from synthetic burrows. He swings a glove he found with his mouth, shaking his head back and forth. Life is truly now, and we must all play. Though, as wise as he is, frost is everywhere, and we are slow to warm. The metal stoves, the plastic bowls and empty glass jugs, every leaf and shrub, the hardened soil, and the insides of our brains—such a crystalline frost, built slow and sure.

    The Wingate walls light up, glow auburn, and we sit with the sun, trace the stories present in our gobies. My body is telling me to rest. Weeks of throwing limbs into these cracks, two years of dreaming myself here: the morning is sincere. I am different now, this Creeksgiving unlike the last; this time I am no longer the lone traveler heading east in search of home.

    Photo: Mike Shaw

    I contemplate this place. What happens to me up there, on those bluffs high above the desert cow pastures? The hike to any crag is steep, the climbs steeper. Accept me, I say before I take the sharp end, or any end. Let me breathe your indifference. But these walls are only echoes of mantras I beg of myself. My hands slot narrow cracks or twist inside wide, parallel lines, my feet just as contorted. I often drag the sides of my body up a corner or against the belly of a dark chimney. The black sheen and red-velvet casts of the stone, they come off unto me. Yet I am the one to discover new strength and wisdom there, new blankets of darkness that linger within every fissure and terrible hand jam. And it is this darkness, the one that lives inside my head, that changes me.

    The smell of steaming breakfast burritos is strong. I am on the brink of being over the cold, but I find it necessary. My body forgets what it’s like to be at ease and wholly refreshed; I welcome the dialogue, as my flesh speaks in tenderness, moans in stiff joints when I stand. My scabs have given up on preventing scars. My hair is as wild as the cottonwood and flows as it pleases, into my eyes, my mouth, tickling my nose as snot drips as slow as the sun is rising—Hemingway wrote it best, and today truly is another beautiful day.

    Sara Aranda somehow took a liking to writing at a young age, composing terrible stories about mermaids, love in the Wild West, and portals to alternate happy-land dimensions. She eventually pursued a degree in creative writing, with an emphasis in poetry, at the University of California Riverside, which is also where she discovered trail running, climbing, and ultimately the great wild world of everything outdoors. She also really likes peanut M&M’S and baby sloths. You can read about other adventures and musings at www.bivytales.com.

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $19.99 a year for three issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. 

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

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

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

    No Comments on Creeksgiving: Rising In Flame/Out of Darkness/With The Sun by Sara Aranda

    Read More
  • Off Route: Naked Nose In A Day by Jonathan Fleury

    Nov 2 • Locations • 366 Views

    Back in May, while hanging out in El Cap Meadow, I overheard a friend talking about Leah’s goal to climb The Nose naked, and instantly I wanted to be a part of that climb. A couple weeks later, sure enough, we set off at 4:38 a.m. After about ten minutes of climbing, I pretty much forgot I wasn’t wearing anything. Both of us had done plenty of naked ascents before (this was my first time naked climbing with a rope) so it was comfortable territory.

    by Jonathan Fleury 

    We topped out at exactly 4:38 p.m. It was hard to forget that moment because as I was running up the final slabs with loops of rope dragging behind me trying to pull me backward, Leah yelled, “You have one minute, and it will be exactly twelve hours!” We were both really proud because this was the fastest either of us had climbed The Nose.

    All in all, the climb went amazingly smooth and felt very freeing. To be honest though, it didn’t feel that wild, which is probably why I failed at trying to write a full-length article about it for The Zine. Other than a few minor scrapes from chimneying and some tanning in places that hardly ever see the light of day, we came out unscathed. The weather was perfect, and we were only cold for short periods of time.

    It was a great adventure and definitely a climb I will never forget. But seriously, with the beauty of that wall, how could you forget any climb on El Cap? Moral of the story, get out there, get naked, and go touch some rocks!

    Jonathan Fleury is a seeker of adventure in the vertical realm. When he is not climbing rocks, he spends his time jumping off them, backcountry skiing, mountain biking, and working as little as possible to fund his habits.

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $19.99 a year for three issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. 

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

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

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

    No Comments on Off Route: Naked Nose In A Day by Jonathan Fleury

    Read More
  • For The Sake Of The Song by Chris Parker

    Oct 31 • Locations • 309 Views

    Maybe she just has to sing, for the sake of the song
    And who do I think that I am to decide that she’s wrong.

    Townes Van Zandt, “For the Sake of the Song”

    I was singing my heart out.

    The words I’d set to music were sure to capture her attention, so I let them fly.

    People said that we were crazy

    And someday we would die

    But I never let it faze me

    Because they didn’t know that I…

    Was roped up with the girl who saved my life.

    I was in a trance.

    Maybe this is it, I thought, the song that changes everything. The one I’d been searching for the past ten years.

    I glanced up from the guitar’s fretboard to catch her reaction.

    Yep, still listening. And she’s smiling. I’ve got this. She loves this one for sure.

    I quieted down, transitioning into the thought-provoking last verse, hanging on every word for extra emphasis.

    These days, I’m still hearing the same refrain

    Repeating all the worries of the past

    But we’ve stayed tied together like a daisy chain

    Even though they said it wouldn’t last

    The last words had hardly left my mouth before she burst into laughter.


    Wait, what’s happening? Why is she laughing?

    “Daisy chain?” she crowed. “Is it the G-string kind?”

    By this point, I’d given up and laid my guitar across my lap while my wife continued to chuckle.

    Fair enough, I thought. Maybe writing songs about climbing wasn’t going to work. I had written about all the usual suspects—love, home, and loss—but climbing still eluded me.

    by Chris Parker (this piece is printed in Volume 11, “Choss, Solos, and Reflection” Get your copy, or subscribe HERE) Banner photo: Chris Parker Collection 

    Maybe that’s because I was born in the Mississippi Delta, a place so flat you could stand on a milk crate and see six miles farther. I’d grown up with music, sure. But climbing? That was as incomprehensible as comparing Stevie Ray to Jimi.

    Music was all I really knew. By the time I was sixteen, I was gigging around the Delta, and my life was all planned out. I would cut a few records, ramble across the country, playing clubs, and die at a young age from an overdose probably. It was simple. All I wanted to do was make music, write songs, and party…really fucking hard.

    You could say the Delta was a breeding ground for hell-raisers. Somewhere deep down in that near-inhospitable farmland lies the genesis of the blues, and if you’ve ever listened to the lyrics of Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, or Son House, you’ll hear the reason why. If there’s nothing but unbearable heat and hard work lying on a sun-blurred horizon, any soul will look for an escape. And in the case of many sharecroppers-turned-bluesmen, religion—which also has deep roots in the South—doesn’t quite cut it. They found their cure in corn whiskey.

    Keep in mind there was nothing else to do but party…at least that was my favorite excuse for why I chose to live like a bluesman at a young age. There were no mountains and no “outdoors” unless you wanted to get eaten alive by the unfathomably large mosquitoes that haunt the Delta. What we did was drink, smoke, and get into trouble. That was the culture. You may have heard it referred to as the blues.

    Weekend nights consisted of driving an intricate system of gravel farm roads outside the city limits—we called ’em roads “turn rows”—while drinking Budweiser and chiefing Marlboros. DUIs were almost rights of passage, and the occasional wrecked car was a standard affair. I once totaled a friend’s Honda and my old Volvo in just under two hours on one wild Friday night. I was lucky enough to live, much less escape getting picked up by the police, who never suspected anything was amiss—nor did they notice the beer bottle hidden in my sock—when I arrived at the station after the first wreck. They only found my twisted and mangled sedan of the night eerily parked in the driveway leading to a farm’s feed bins. I’d rolled my car—the second wreck of the night—through the ditch lining the side of the country road. Like some stunt in a Hollywood film, that Volvo popped out of the ditch just in time to land on all four wheels in the driveway. My two friends and I opened the doors, brushed the glass out of our hair, hid the beer, and got the hell outta there before we got caught.

    Gig nights, however, involved playing music in a bar till midnight, and in those days, the Mississippi drinking establishments seamlessly combined everything I needed to have a good time. You could smoke inside, which gave me the opportunity to plug a cigarette into the headstock of my guitar like Jimi, and you could drink whiskey, of course. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t twenty-one. When you grow up in a small town and know pretty much every damn person in the place, you can easily find yourself with a beer in hand to chase the shot you just swallowed. Plus, I was the entertainment. That meant drinks were on the house.

    Maybe I had demons. Honestly, I don’t know. What I do know is that I liked to get really fucked up. Perhaps, just like those sharecroppers, I too felt a need to escape. I remember struggling with a feeling of incredible hopelessness and thinking I’d never get any further from a fate sealed in a small Mississippi town. The world outside seemed to pass me by. However, above all, getting drunk and high while raising hell was just plain fun, and I was pretty good at it.

    By the time I hit twenty-one, however, I was worn out. I couldn’t remember a stretch of more than two days where I hadn’t spent all my gig money on booze and drugs. I wasn’t even writing songs anymore. So I decided to bail. I played four gigs in five days, tossed the cash in a lockbox, loaded guitars and amps into my Honda Accord, and hit the road.

    Where was I heading? West.

    Perhaps it was the interview I’d read with famous Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt. He mentioned he’d escape the cities of Austin or Nashville and camp out in the woods of Crested Butte. “Catch a horse and gamble with the miners” is how he put it.

    Or maybe it was the fact that my best friend had left Mississippi for good and was currently living in the sleepy mountain town of Ouray, Colorado. “C’mon out,” he’d said. “Stay as long as you need.”

    Turns out I needed about a decade. My habits didn’t die easy. The first few years living in the mountains proved to be little more than a change of scenery.

    Ouray, for me, was an easy town to escape to. Hidden beneath the rugged San Juan Mountains, the old mining town still had an outlaw vibe—a place where fugitives and troublemakers could hang out and not be bothered. Whatever you’d done before didn’t matter there. Ouray was a clean slate.

    During my first winter—I’d arrived on January 10, exactly a month after turning 21—I worked the evenings as a busboy at the Italian place on Main Street. Coincidentally, I’d found that the majority of the kitchen workers at the joint were like-minded souls who were also running away from something. Some were from New Orleans—a result of Hurricane Katrina—while others seemed to have been bouncing around so long they weren’t from anywhere anymore. Regardless, these were my new people, and you could say we were thick as thieves. We’d work hard till closing time, and once again, drinks were on the house.

    That first winter, I still played guitar but only for fun. It was as relieving as it was concerning to me. I knew I needed to write songs. I knew there were new chords, new scales, and new voices to find. But it was so easy to let it all go. Plus, there was always something new to discover…like the girl whom I’d met the night before. The one who I’d played Townes’s “Lungs” for in hopes to be invited back to her place.

    Though the winter was long, the spring and summer eventually crept up, and the warm seasons brought with it a host of new activities. The higher the snowline moved, the farther we were able to explore into the mountains, until finally I was standing beneath the sheer walls of rock hanging above the talus field on the north end of town.

    A portrait of a climber as a young man. Photo: Chris Parker Collection

    Annie Whitehouse—a renowned mountaineer and climber who happened to also date the chef from work—was standing up ahead, eyeing the same rock. She reached in her climbing pack and pulled out a haggard, yellowed garment and tossed it my direction.

    “This was Derek’s,” she said. “Now it’s yours.”

    I was harnessed up for my first lead when I caught the flying tank top. I’d probably been climbing two weeks, and with Annie at the helm as our quasi mentor, our small Mississippi crew had been picking our way through the rock climbs on the outskirts of town.

    Climbing was a rad new way of getting high. Sure, I’d still howl at the moon till the early morning hours occasionally, but those nocturnal escapades really started getting in the way of the next day’s mission to explore more Colorado stone.

    And it wasn’t just the act of climbing that began to inspire me. It was the history, the culture, and the characters who had pioneered the sport. Annie was a direct line into a world filled with legendary badasses, like her former boyfriend Derek Hersey. She’d told us stories about Derek, a longhaired Brit who specialized in free soloing. Derek had died “a free soloists death,” she’d said, and I couldn’t help but draw a connection to the fanatical climber’s lifestyle and that of a troubadour like Townes, who seemed to only live for the sake of the song.

    The day I marched up to The Alcove to lead my first rock climb, I think Annie had sensed that connection. When I unfolded the tattered rag she’d tossed, I saw the silhouette of a cowboy with a Fender Stratocaster slung on his shoulder. The faded print on the tank top read: Stevie Ray Vaughan Couldn’t Stand The Weather Tour, 1985.

    The climber’s life slowly replaced the troubles of my past. I spent two years in Ouray, climbing rocks in the spring, summer, and fall and eventually saved enough money for ice-climbing gear so I could experience the town’s famed Ice Park in the winter. As for songs and music? They could wait. Sure, I felt guilty for leaving music on the back burner, but I’d decided to follow a new path.

    After two years in Ouray, I decided to move down to Durango and dirtbag my way through college so I could learn to write prose.

    There’s something magical about climbing that entices those who fancy themselves as writers. Just the sight of Chamonix’s mountains sent the famed Percy B. Shelley into a fit of metaphoric verse, resulting in the classic poem “Mont Blanc.”

    Power dwells apart in its tranquility

    Remote, serene, and inaccessible:

    And this, the naked countenance of earth,

    On which I gaze, even these primeval mountains

    Teach the adverting mind.…

    And there’s no shortage of climbing-inspired literature, both young and old, that continues to be a cornerstone for rebellious souls looking for adventure.

    Needless to say, I fell hard for the words and stories surrounding the radical climbing culture. Writing about climbing was a way to explore the characters that intrigued me. In the beginning, I wasn’t really interested in the introspective form. That’s probably a result of having grown up in Mississippi and feeling quite inexperienced in all things involving mountains. Instead, I wanted to tell stories about underground crushers who inspired me. Those tales about Derek that Annie had told us, for example, were what converted me into a climber. Those are the stories I looked for.

    It wasn’t hard to find climbers to write about while living in Durango. The town has a reputation for hosting a plethora of unsung heroes. “The land Gill forgot,” they say, referring to the wealth of world-class stone that famous pioneers like John Gill never bothered to explore. Durango was indeed the land of the undercover crusher.

    My first subject was the kid everyone talked about at the college-campus climbing gym. “Mason flashed it,” I’d overhear. “Oh, yeah, Mason totally onsighted that.” I pried a little to discover that a Fort Lewis College dropout named Mason Earle was quietly climbing the nearby desert’s hardest cracks, often first try.

    I pitched Rock and Ice magazine the story, and they were game. All I had to do was write it up. Easy, right?

    “Cut and dried,” the associate editor wrote after my first draft. I’d submitted the piece thinking it was in the bag, and now a professional editor basically said it was poorly written. Damn. I was heartbroken.

    The usual feelings of doubt crept in. What the fuck was I doing with my life? I’d given up on music—something I was good at—to focus on writing, and now I sucked.

    I let that piece sit for half a year before I entered the ring for round two. However, I reread interviews in R&I, studied the style, and reformed the piece. Hitting send on my email with a second draft attached gave me butterflies. But it was worth it. This time the magazine bought the story after a few rounds of edits, and three months before graduation, I was officially a published climbing writer.

    When I met with my college advisor to discuss career opportunities, the answer was obvious: I was going to be a climbing writer.

    What the fuck is a climbing writer?

    I could hear my bewildered friends from Mississippi struggle to find meaning in my proclaimed vocation. Climbing was weird enough. But I was moving to another mountain town in Colorado called Carbondale to work at Rock and Ice magazine?

    Hell yes, I was.

    My first year at Rock and Ice was dreamy. Climbing. Writing. Editing. Rifle on the weekends. Redstone boulders on weeknights.

    Carbondale, though smaller than Durango, had a thriving tribe of climbers, and coincidentally, the music scene was also happening. There were several local bands, and after a year of laying low and only playing guitar on my couch after work, I started getting the odd invite to jam.

    It was Chris Kalous—the voice of The Enormocast—who first asked if I wanted to play.

    He enticed me to come to his cabin in the Crystal River Valley south of town to play a little and hang out.

    “Pick up some yellow beer on your way over,” he said.

    This occasional jam session continued, until eventually Kalous and I had formed a full-fledged band—adding our flavor of tunes to the growing Carbondale scene.

    The problem was I’d unintentionally, perhaps subconsciously, awakened the beast.

    Music, that old, all-encompassing till-death-do-us-part friend I’d had? Yeah, she was back.

    I’m not sure what happened, but one evening I wrote a song. The first song, I’ll add, in ten long years. Then, I wrote another one. And another one. I’ll admit, at one point I had a notepad sitting on my desk at R&I headquarters. It was there that I’d spend several minutes of every hour reworking verses, perfecting rhymes, and searching, always searching, for the perfect turn of phrase.

    Music. It was again running (or ruining, depending how you see it) my life. Pretty soon I had a grip of songs and new plans. Climbing? Fuck it. Who cared about climbing? I was heading to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the hit capital of the world, to make a record and start a new career.

    The truth is I never wanted anything in life other than to be a musician. No matter how hard I repressed it, followed other paths, or pursued anything else, including climbing, music was always there, waiting to take over. In a way, I even considered that climbing had perhaps been just a side road, albeit an odd one, I admit, to where I belonged all along. And that’s onstage with a guitar.

    I made it to the Shoals and cut an album of my new songs in two days, playing live in the studio with some of the boys you may have heard called the Swampers. I moved up to Seattle, played a few shows…and then things got tough.

    Maybe it was the daunting juggernaut that is the music industry. Or the fact that I’d left all my friends, my job, and the mountains I’d fallen in love with for such uncertainty, but I was in a funk that would put James Brown to shame.

    Seattle was where I thought I needed to be. After all, Colorado wasn’t for musicians. Playing the local pubs in Carbondale wasn’t going to further my music career. These days, you have to be in the scene, right? What I actually discovered in Seattle was loneliness and a profound lack of purpose. No job. No gigs. Hell, I didn’t even have a band anymore. I’m not exactly sure what I expected to find in Seattle, but a music career (or any meaningful career, for that matter) didn’t pan out.

    I ran back to the one thing I knew I could escape to: climbing.

    This time, however, I made a conscious decision to try to keep music around. My biggest mistakes have always involved giving up. Giving up on music to be a climber caused years of regret. And giving up on climbing—which had become an integral part of who I was as an adult—with hopes of only being a musician again threw me further off course.

    There had to be a way to have both. 

    Look at Jack Johnson, I’d tell myself while pondering this very question. That perennially tanned surfer-boy extraordinaire has a blossoming music career. And didn’t Miles Davis box? I mean, sure he was too scared of ruining his embouchure to actually get in the ring with an opponent…but you get my point.

    Climbing. Music. Simple enough, right? I just needed to pen some new songs that truly captured how it feels to move over stone or see a new cliff for the first time. Or better yet, how roping up with a loved one pulls you closer together, and you remain…tied together like a daisy chain.

    Ok, I’ll admit, when I first wrote that lyric, I chuckled too. But these days, I’m still hearing the same refrain, every time I pull out my guitar.

    “Play my favorite one, babe. The daisy chain song.”

    “You know, the one you call ‘Climbers.’”

    Chris Parker is a writer, climber, and musician living with his wife and coydog in Salt Lake City. His new EP Cliff Notes—featuring songs inspired by climbing—is available now. Visit ChristopherParkerMusic.com to learn more.

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $19.99 a year for three issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. 

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

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

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

    No Comments on For The Sake Of The Song by Chris Parker

    Read More