• The Road and First Walls in Zion – from American Climber

    May 24 • Locations • 169 Views

    American Climber, the memoir written by our publisher Luke Mehall is celebrating its one year anniversary this month, and this week we’re shipping copies of the book for $9.99, with free shipping. 

    This is an excerpt from the book, which documents Mehall’s tumultuous journey to climbing, which ultimately saved his life.

    You can order the book here. 

    Chapter 24, The Road and Zion 

    I have to admit that I was chasing the climbing high. I wanted to feel that feeling frequently and often, and I drove all over to find it. With any highs, there are the lows. Being a dirtbag climber, it’s the loneliness of the road, at least for me; we all have our own demons. I was riding high out of Mexico, back into Texas, but the flat roads of Texas and Oklahoma had a way of killing the high.

    Of course, I just had to find the next high. I stopped off in Gunnison, and it was still in the throes of winter. Gunny couldn’t provide me with the fix I needed. So I kept moving, kept pumping gas into the truck, and ended up in the Utah desert. I climbed in Indian Creek for a while and then had the appetite for something bigger. Zion was the destination, a sandstone Yosemite of sorts; the kind of place that would feed my dreams and give me the fix I needed.

    I’d lined up an old college buddy, Dave, as my partner. Dave was the ying to my yang—he was calm and collected, and I was a bit hungry and charged. After two months of mostly predictable climbing, I knew the tall walls of Zion would provide adventure. Dave was a climbing guide and had the demeanor; in many ways, he was the only truly experienced climber in our duo; he could read the weather and the rock and knew when to push onward and when to back off.

    This was perfect because I was ready to just set sail in any type of weather; I just craved the adventure, and I was full of the hopeful, youthful enthusiasm that will get you into trouble quickly. And, when we were two pitches up The Touchstone Wall, a classic thousand-foot route of seams and cracks, a wicked storm started brewing above us. A towering wall of dark gray clouds hovered, but I still wanted to press on. Dave looked at me like I was a damn fool, which I was, and told me we needed to rappel down, right now. And we did, and the rainstorm ensued, keeping the sandstone wet for days, so we rolled around the area in my truck, just wasting time.

    The area surrounding Zion is a Mormon stronghold, and what is particularly interesting is that there are still the fundamentalist Mormons who practice polygamy, a once-common practice in their history. Now, being in Mormon country means you have to be very careful with weed and alcohol; those bastards will spy on you with night goggles when you’re in camp and deliver a thousand-dollar fine, plus probation, simply for hitting the peace pipe, which we often did in those days while celebrating a climb over a campfire and rice and beans.

    On one rest day, a rainy day, we wandered over near Colorado City. I was reading Jon Krakauer’s Under The Banner of Heaven, which chronicles the sad, deep sins of the Mormons and their ties to polygamy and the abuse of women, and I was disturbed but curious. We drove through Colorado City, and it was like a pool of incest, a haunting reminder of how the Mormon religion started. People looked inbred and sad; I couldn’t bear to look them in their eyes, and we got out of there as quickly as possible.

    After several days of wandering the region and trying to stay out of trouble, the weather cleared, and we went back up on Touchstone.

    At this point, I was charged and ready to go and wanted nothing else in the world than to be up high in the vertical world. Tim rolled in at two in the morning and pulled into our campsite from Monticello, Utah, where he was living at the time. I demanded we get up as early as possible and everyone obliged. I was surely impatient and too eager. Tim slept slumped over in the front seat of his truck and looked haggard in the morning. Dave and I had already packed everything up the night before.

    I was upset at how long we took in the morning and just wanted to charge the climb. We had to wait for the shuttle bus to get a ride in because Zion is closed to cars in the busy season. The tourists looked at us like we were out of our minds, draped in climbing gear. We tried to pay them no mind as we discussed our techniques. We were hoping to do the climb in one push, no bivouac, just up and down in the daylight; we’d be popping beers by nightfall, we hoped.

    My selective ADD mind recalls the fourth pitch, a perfect 5.11 splitter that I tried to free climb. At the time, it was at my limit, and, with a few hundred feet of air below my shoes, the effort was thrilling and intoxicating, which is probably why I still remember it. Heart pounding, muscles shaking, I made delicate moves up the face, and barely pulled it off without falling. I was proud of my efforts, and I arrived at the belay awash in adrenaline and psych.

    A truly experienced climber will take stock of the situation and decide if there’s enough time to complete the climb. I didn’t do that; I was just in love and in a trance with the experience. I mean, I didn’t analytically think about how we were going to get off this wall or if we had enough time to complete the climb. I just thought, “Holy fuck, this is awesome; this is the life, pushing myself to the limit, ending up higher and higher on a huge sandstone wall, surrounded by bigger sandstone walls. I just want do this forever and never grow old.”

    I was not yet an experienced climber. I had enough experience on how to climb but not how to climb with style. At this point, Tim’s fatigue started showing itself. The guy had only slept a couple hours after driving all night. Dave was calm and collected like always and took the lead, pushing us higher. But the sun was setting as I took the next lead and climbed into the darkness.

    We missed a key part of the beta on how to properly climb the Touchstone Wall—you’re supposed to rappel down once the steep climbing is over. The route continues, but it wanders up several unimpressive slab pitches, leading to a point of no return.

    I’d climbed into the darkness, the night, and we looked at our topo, and we still had about five pitches to go until the summit. Once Tim and Dave came up, we realized that, very unfortunately, Tim did not have a headlamp. He got mad at himself for the forgetfulness, but that’s the breaks—sleeplessness leads to forgetting things. And, climbers are almost proud of our ability to improvise.

    Then I was getting mad. I started leading up the slab, thinking we’re close to having the day over, and I couldn’t complete a move. I climbed up and down, and then started yelling, started screaming, like some ancient rage decided to leave my body that day. Dave and Tim sent up the protocol of encouragement, the things climbers always say like “you got it; come on, man, you can do this.” I was mad because hours earlier I had been performing at a much higher level, in much steeper more difficult terrain, but the darkness and the fatigue were getting to me, and, in fact, had broken me down until I was a person screaming at a rock face, like yelling at the wind, desperation and frustration getting the best of me. Far from the Zen focus I had just a few hours earlier.

    I expelled that energy out of me and got it back together, and hours later we reached the top of the Touchstone Wall. It was one of the most pure moments of fear, bewilderment, and awareness that I’ve ever had. The moon shined brightly on the surrounding walls, and it was all out of this world but within this world. The world was this wild, astounding, inspiring place. It really was. It was like being on another planet, or in the middle of this deep dream you wondered how you were ever going to be able to get out of or wake up from.

    Our escape was a massive gully system that ran alongside the wall. We’d have to rappel down it in order to get back to the base of the climb, so we could get back to the car. But, how would we do that? The shuttles had stopped running long ago and we were miles from our truck. We were out there, that was for sure.

    Dave and I had to go first and last on the rappels, so we could shine some light on Tim, who had no light. After a couple rappels, Tim also realized he’d left his climbing shoes on the summit. This was no time to lament; we just had to move. Tim did end up saving the day with cheese and sausage that he’d brought along, and we devoured that like starving men, hungry, so hungry. We’d made seventeen rappels that had taken us several hours. Was morning approaching, or would the night last forever? we wondered. None of us had watches, or even a cell phone, so we had no idea what time it was. We reached a point where we could no longer tell where the next rappel was. We couldn’t tell and didn’t want to be more dangerous than we’d already been, so we just stayed put. We finally accepted the benightment. We sat there cold, fatigued, and frustrated. Dave made a final effort to find the rappel station and scrambled up twenty feet above where Tim and I just sat with our heads in our hands, trying in vain to sleep. He found nothing and sat up there, with his own thoughts of frustration, waiting for the sun to rise.

    And it did, like it always does, and it showed us the way. We were a mere two hundred feet about the ground. We rappelled down to the ground and a euphoria struck us that would last for the rest of the day. The light, the surroundings, everything just became magical. The deliriousness of the night turned into a wonderment of light and excitement to just simply exist. We were hungry and we knew there would be food somewhere. And, we’d survived a situation that could have easily gone badly, really badly.

    We caught the shuttle and headed straight to the nearby town where we found a buffet. It was just your normal American buffet, nothing fancy or special, but, damn, it felt special. We ate so much food that there’s no way they made a dime on us that day. We went back for fourths and fifths and talked to the waitress to ask if we could speak to the manager to tell them just how great the food was. We were high on life, man. We were so high on just climbing and suffering and surviving. It was one of the greatest days of my life.

    This is how the addiction to a dirtbag life begins—have a big adventure, get scared and humbled, come back down to the horizontal world and everything seems anew. Normal everyday things become sacred, and then you just want to go up and do it all over again.

    So after resting and eating everything we saw for a day and a half, Dave and I went back up. This time we packed a portaledge and a big haul bag, and we went after another so-called moderate aid route, Moonlight Buttress.

    It seems silly now to carry so much on a route that barely checks in at a thousand feet long, but we needed to learn. And when my mind drifts back to this climb, it’s impossible not to think of it as a work of art from nature/God. A few approach pitches lead up to a laser splitter finger crack that starts and never seems like it’s going to finish. The splitter goes for several pitches, like a highway to heaven.

    We had plenty of cursing and struggle to get up to that splitter, hauling everything but the kitchen sink. Our first night, we struggled like hell to get that portaledge set up, manual labor at its finest, fighting to put the metal rods together that form the base and let it sit horizontally along the wall, so we could have a small place to sleep for the night. It felt so awkward, and I went to anger much quicker than Dave, cursing at the damn thing. Finally, and patiently, Dave got it set up, and we had our dinner of one shared beer and some sort of food that we ate out of a can with the nut tool, the same tool we shoved into cracks to get the cams and nuts out, so the tool was covered in aluminum, grime, and dirt.

    Like a good completed day of manual labor, we felt hard-earned satisfaction, relieved to have our perch on this sandstone wall in a canyon of sandstone walls, with trees below looking like small bushes, and birds circling and swerving below you and among you. There’s something to be said for living a life among the birds.

    The struggle continued into the next day, taking down the portaledge, packing, and moving upward. The progress was simple, and the cracks were perfect, even better for free climbing, but we were not there yet. We were just a couple of hard-working guys, learning the mechanics of aid climbing, paying our dues for bigger climbs ahead.

    The struggle was relieved at the top. We were awash with relief and success. We shook hands and proudly took stock of a hard-earned view as the sun went down. A week without showering, two walls, and a lot of wandering around the weird western Utah, it was time to go on to whatever would be next.

    On the trail down, it was dark, and we slowly moved down with our ropes and large haul bag, happy as pigs in shit. A party of three passed us, with a couple women. They smelled clean and wonderful, like a flower in spring, showing us everything that was right in the world, and they probably held their noses as we passed. That night, we packed up the truck and drove back to Indian Creek.

    American Climber is on sale this week for $9.99 with free shipping. 

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

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

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

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  • Fill The Void by Shay Skinner

    May 19 • Locations • 314 Views

    The reflection targets my disfigurement. If only the borders of this mirror could protect the rest of the world from my hideousness. My life’s insignificance rampages through my thoughts like an atrociously loud party that never ends. Nothing I do is good enough. I want to expunge my existence on a daily basis. Not even daily. Every damn second. With this mirror as my echo, I am repulsive. How do I disappear from my inadequacies? With countless years of too many pills mixed with too much alcohol under my belt, what is next for me? What else can I do to escape the infernal knowledge that I am worthless, that I will never be enough? I have already attempted suicide once, and I even failed at that. Every time I think about it, my one chance at escaping this ghastly life, I feel betrayed. My heart stopped that day. Clinically, I died. Yet, here I am with the mirror trapping my brittle existence in its cage, framing me for another attempt.

    by Shay Skinner, Senior Contributor to The Climbing Zine. Banner photo of the author on Flight Time, Fin Wall, Indian Creek by Sagar Gondalia. This piece is an excerpt from Volume 10, The Raw Issue. 

    I cannot bear to take up too much space in this world. I do not deserve it. I am not worth it. Standing in front of the mirror every morning, I check myself to make sure I am small enough to exist. It is better to feel hollow than to feel anything at all. Even the feeling of food in my stomach is too much to allow. The void is my only comfort. My only confidant. Before I lay my skeleton to troubled rest every night, I look at myself again in the mirror, waiting to die. I am nothing but skin dripping off bones like cheap clothes drooping from wire coat hangers. And still, even the air in my lungs takes up too much space.

    The author in the Black Canyon. Photo: Shay Skinner Collection.

    I looked down at the paper in my hands. The vague directions given to me by Chris, someone with whom I had spent less than six hours, were sketchy at best. I wagered the pros and cons: Drive seven hours, become terribly lost in the middle of the Utah desert, lose cell phone service, and my sense of direction—I might end up thoroughly enjoying the experience. Or, I could foolishly deliver myself to my will-be murderers.

    End decision: Whatever. I am in.

    It had been three days since I excitedly dropped everything for a spontaneous adventure. Looking down at my hands again, I saw that they were swollen and wrapped in a dismal representation of skin well held together as they gingerly gripped the steering wheel. I could not believe how bruised and battered my entire body was, but I had crawled out of the Canyonlands in one piece—well, relatively one piece. Images from that weekend with three wonderful strangers began to cloud my vision like a torrent flash flood. For the first time in my life, I taped my hands, put on a harness and climbing shoes, slung a chalk bag around my waist, and threw myself at some gorgeous sandstone crack.

    As the tires of my car wove in and out of the turns of the scenic byway just outside of Moab, I reflected on the little words and phrases given to me by each person. Chris urged me to just have fun with the splitter cracks and find a little piece of desert heaven in the hot July air. Devin, whose crack-climbing motto was “get froggy with it,” always had faith in me (in everyone really) and reminded us at the end of each day to thank our hands, love our body, and be grateful for our minds, this Earth, and the privilege of simply being able to climb. And then the words that Spring casually uttered to me: “When you climb, you need to fill the void of the crack—with your body.”

    My soul was imploding with a fierce vivacity that I had never experienced before. Fill the void. Fill the void. Fill the void. Those three monumental words acted like a firing squad in my body, allowing my heart to seep all of the ignored emotion locked up inside. I began thinking about how I had never in my life been on an adventure like the one I was returning from. When I was little, there was no room for play, no time for myself, and no outlet for my emotions into nature. Before embarking on this complete immersion into nature, my mind was high-strung and wired for a downward spiral fully saturated with depression, self-deprecating thoughts, and an overall under-enjoyment for my desolate excuse of a life. And before I knew it, the flash flood was trundling down my face.

    For the entire hour it took me to drive along the byway that sided with the Colorado River, an entropic catharsis ransacked everything I knew about life. Where was the negativity? I realized I had never lived in a moment, let alone days on end, where absolutely no negativity existed. No, not even in thought. Never was I once told I was not going to be able to climb a crack. Never were there any utterances of not being strong enough, not being capable enough, not…being enough. Instead, there was praise and support, laughter and enjoyment. And then came the kicker, a more profound recognition: I ate. I ate and I digested and I did not analyze it once. The thoughts deepened themselves into unknown crevasses as I realized I spent an entire three days devoid of obsessing over body image, being attractive, attaining a certain look to appease society, or to satisfy my own hungry thoughts for what I delusively deemed to be beauty.

    So I wept for what seemed like hours, making a blubbering mess of my face. Somehow over the weekend, I had managed to escape myself, my destruction, and the monstrosity of a disease that consumed 90 percent of my daily thought process. At this point, the last five and a half years of my life were ruthlessly defined by bitter trench warfare with an eating disorder. If there are on average 8,765 hours in a year, I figure I devoted about 36,200 hours of those years mentally and physically degrading my health. With that degradation came the downfall of my confidence, my livelihood, and my wish to discontinue with a life I had only credited with a disgusting amount of worthlessness. Yet, in this one meager hour, the last 48,208 hours of my life unraveled.

    In all honesty, the state of my malnourished body should have prohibited me from the activities of the weekend. Yet, I was successful. Foreign sensations washed over me leaving goose bumps in their wake. I found a reticent, subtle, and exotic piece of myself sitting, waiting patiently and quietly, to be discovered in the middle of a crux, a one hundred-degree hike, an amazing meal, terrifying exposure, and little moments of time so readily given to me by mere strangers. I was proud of myself. I felt tough. I felt respected. I felt like I deserved to eat. I felt beautiful. For the first time in years, I discovered a glimpse into the meaning of true health. I finally saw a way out of these shackles that bound me. I was accomplished. It was as if Indian Creek preserved a piece of me in its air-conditioned cracks that I had no knowledge of. Over the weekend, I discovered it and wholly felt it.

    Afterward, it took a few days to digest the pieces of myself that I found perched just below Bandito anchors or in the depths of a crack. I unearthed strength. Strength. Physically and emotionally and mentally, I observed a soft and delicate strength that has a ferocious passion I never recognized before. Even more, I did not know it existed. And in the end, this is not a story about climbing. It is not even a story about an eating disorder. Rather, this is the hour I began to love myself for the first time.

    I am enough.

    Shay Skinner embraces the identities of being a writer, climber, and outdoor adventure photographer. She’s also semi-famous for turning a Clif Bar wrapper, a Smartwool sock, and climbing tape into a tampon while on her first big wall in Yosemite. Beginning her climbing career in Indian Creek, six years ago, it quickly became the place she turns to for emotional refuge and healing. To see more of her photography and to experience more her journey through life, struggles, and vulnerability, her blog can be found at skinpoetryphotography.wordpress.com.

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

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

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

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  • Announcing a Climbing Children’s Book: Squeak

    May 17 • Dirtbagging • 279 Views

    Longtime Zine contributor and all around good guy, D Scott Borden announced the release of his children’s book, Squeak Goes Climbing in Yosemite National Park yesterday. He’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign all month, which includes options to pre-order the book. (Be sure to check out the adorable video with Scott’s son Kai.)

    Here’s some more details. We’re mighty proud of Scott and we’re going to help distribute the book. Cheers buddy!

    Scott and his son Kai.

     

    From the campaign: 

    This projects is a labor of love that started over 10 years ago after climbing El Capitan.  While working in Yosemite at NatureBridge, one of the most awesome environmental education organization on our little planet, the author was inspired to write a children’s book that described concepts in basic climbing and natural history to kids while encouraged them to follow their dreams.  The author and illustrator, the incredibly talented Mallory Logan, were good friends from college and connected to make the project possible.  They are both parents and want to inspire their kids to dream big.  Now they need your help to print it.  

    Squeak Goes Climbing in Yosemite National Park on Kickstarter. 

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

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

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

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

    May 15 • Locations • 2528 Views

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

    by Joy Martin, Senior Contributor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Photo of Melise by Stefan Baatz.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Stacy Bare on Bears Ears and Ryan Zinke’s Visit to Utah

    May 12 • Dirtbagging • 327 Views

    On Sunday, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke stood in front of a small, windowless conference room in Salt Lake City next to one of the long standing Generals of the Sagebrush Rebellion, Senator Orrin Hatch. He was there to kick off his listening tour as required by an Executive Order signed by President Trump to, as Sec. Zinke stated, to make sure each Monument larger than 100,000 acres created since 1996 got a fair hearing.

    by Stacy Bare, Director Sierra Club Outdoors 

    A few hours south were the millions of acres of land sacred to Native Americans that contained treasured archaeological sites, red rock, sage brush, dark night skies, incredible ecological diversity, and miles of vistas to provoke awe in any woman or man, that we would be talking about that afternoon. The two Utah monuments that bookend the time frame of the EO review, Grand Stair Case Escalante and Bears Ears, are objects of contempt for Utah’s Republican Leadership.

    Sec. Zinke was quick to start off his remarks reminding the assembled group of media that the Executive Order does not strip any existing National Monument of its designation, and reiterated that neither he nor President Trump supported the transfer or sale of public lands. He made the claim that neither he, nor the President, had any specific predetermined outcome for the process, and, somewhat surprisingly on the same day the Trump administration removed five scientists from a prominent Environmental Protection Agency Advisory board, made the claim that he was a “firm believer in NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act, a critical environmental permitting process]” and saw NEPA process as an important tool to protect clean air and water.

    He talked about the importance of the Monument process specifically, as an effective tool to save and preserve our nation’s shared cultural and natural treasures. He referenced the first National Monument, Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower, a Native American holy site like Bears Ears. Zinke argued that, even at just 1,200 acres, Devil’s Tower was controversial for its size at the time, no doubt drawing a stiff contrast to the vast, 1.35 million acres now under protection at Bears Ears

    He also talked about the beauty of Bears Ears, the importance of considering tribal sovereignty in any decision-making, and how excited he was to again be riding a horse through Bears Ears to experience it firsthand. Something he hadn’t done since his first day as the Secretary when, DC traffic be damned, he rode a horse to work.

    He said, even if the delegation in Utah or other parts of the administration never will, that federal lands are all of America’s—not just the purview of those who happen to neighbor their borders and that each voice, the local and the far away were weighed equally in the final judgement—though he did want to make sure the DoI was a good community partner and needed to rebuild trust with some local communities that have lost trust in the agency.

    It all sounded great. Sec. Zinke is a good public speaker. He comes off as warm, understanding, compassionate, and the type of guy that will hold fast to his word. He’s a doer and I feel like with both of us having served our country in uniform, however different our jobs, we have some shared values and I want to believe him.

    I want to believe Zinke will act to preserve our public lands for all people and that he will fight against any sale or transfer of public lands. In one response about the importance to access of public lands he talked about how important it was to connect people to their land for the benefits of time outdoors. He even spent time discussing his vision of an interconnected system of public lands to increase access and opportunities for people to get outside. I was sold. Secretary Zinke was my guy in the administration.

    YET, he only met with a highly curated and skewed group of interests while he was in Utah. Pro-monument supporters were moved out of the way so he would minimize the number of people he saw for the monument. Worse, important pro-monument stakeholders, even the All American chamber of commerce for the two rural communities most heavily impacted by the monuments, Boulder-Escalante were denied meetings along with military veterans and pro-monument Native American community organizations.

    He’s taking public comment for 15 days (!) to potentially override years of consultation. He continues to carry the opposition message that there is no support for Bears Ears, though polling shows differently. He says there is no preconceived outcome, but being shepherded through our State with the Republican delegation–who likely hasn’t told him that the boundaries of Bears Ears closely match their own proposal coming out of their Public Lands Initiative–it sure feels like he’s creating a story of opposition.

    I want to believe him, I want him to be my guy, but I just can’t.

    In a best effort, however to give the good Secretary the benefit of the doubt, we need to ensure that when the online comment period opens up for these monuments later this month, that we all submit comments. Comments, as Sec. Zinke asked, that are substantive: about why we need, love, and want our existing monuments that fit, in his own words, “the Muir model;” untrammeled by man. You can take immediate action on Bears Ears by signing our online petition here or here

    Finally, get in touch with Senator Hatch via phone call, post card, fax, or email and ask the question he said there wasn’t time to answer before the media briefing rather than just take his word for it, “What can’t Native Americans do on a National Monument that they could before Monument designation? Would they be able to use the land in the way they are using it now if either Monument was mined, drilled, fracked, or logged?”

    Public comment on Bears Ears can be submitted here. 

    Here’s how to get in touch with Senator Hatch:

    Washington DC Office

    104 Hart Office Building

    Washington, DC 20510
    Tel: (202) 224-5251
    Fax: (202) 224-6331

    Cedar City Office

    77 N. Main Street
    Suite 112
    Cedar City, UT 84720
    Tel: (435) 586-8435
    Fax: (435) 586-2147

    Ogden Office

    1006 Federal Building
    324 25th Street
    Ogden, UT 84401
    Tel: (801) 625-5672
    Fax: (801) 394-4503

    Provo Office

    51 S. University Ave.
    Suite 320
    Provo, UT 84601
    Tel: (801) 375-7881
    Fax: (801) 374-5005

    Salt Lake City Office

    8402 Federal Building

    125 South State Street
    Salt Lake City, UT 84138
    Tel: (801) 524-4380
    Fax: (801) 524-4379

    St. George Office

    Federal Building
    196 East Tabernacle, Rm 14
    St. George, UT 84770
    Tel: (435) 634-1795
    Fax: (435) 634-1796

    Stacy Bare is the director of Sierra Club Outdoors. He 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. 

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

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

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

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  • Tom Randall: Wide Boy, Small Ego, Big Heart by Luke Mehall

    May 9 • Locations • 2064 Views

    Like most desert rats, I first heard of Tom Randall during his and Pete Whittaker’s infamous off-width tour of the United States in 2011. Both hailing from the United Kingdom, with very little access to actual off-widths, they constructed their own in Randall’s basement, aka “the cellar,” and began a ruthless training regimen. The training paid off with countless quick sends of difficult off-widths, including Whittaker’s mind-blowing onsight of Belly Full of Bad Berries (5.13) in Indian Creek and each climbers successful ascent of Century Crack, a 5.14b located in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. Ever since then, American climbers have known this duo as “The Wide Boyz.”

    by Luke Mehall, publisher of The Climbing Zine and author of American Climber. Banner photo of Pete (left) and Tom (right) in the White Rim, Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Photo: Tom Randall Collection. 

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

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

    Foreign climbers coming through the United States sweeping up projects and onsighting test pieces can incite jealousy and bitterness, but these two did it with such grace, humility, and humor that it was impossible not to love them. Quickly, these two became heroes to many, including myself, and a perfect representation of the modern professional climber: humble and hungry, always training at their maximum for projects that were equally aesthetic and futuristic.

    If you haven’t seen the Wide Boyz film, by Paul Diffley and Chris Alstrin, documenting that 2011 off-width tour, stop reading this article and find it. Just be prepared for the dizziness that might ensue picturing yourself with your heels above your head, on the Century Crack, which is easily considered the hardest established off-width in the world. Something that really struck me in the film was Randall’s reaction after he sent the climb: he wept, and he credited his wife for his success.

    That was the image that stayed with me over the years when I heard of Tom Randall, a man with a family, who with humility and grace sought out some of the world’s hardest crack climbs, training in a place where no such climbs really existed. I mention this because most of the crack climbs that Randall and Whittaker have done are right in my proverbial backyard; I can be leave my house after morning tea and be in The Creek or Canyonlands before lunchtime. Yet, my fire, my passion for first ascents was only a tiny fraction of what burned inside their souls; they had the hunger, the fire—they had “it.”

    I’m sure I’m one of thousands that these two inspired after sending Century Crack to try a little harder, give a little more gusto, and dedicate more training to what you love. The Wide Boyz film was instant inspiration in a bottle, and even more inspiring was that their motivation didn’t seem to come in any way from ego. Around this same time, my friends and I became more drawn to first ascents than to repeating those tired desert cracks that we all bleed into and carve away at with each cam placement and ripped pieces of misplaced gear. Whether we were aware of it or not, the Brits had elevated the standard, raised the bar with an elegance that we had to chase.

    Five years of chasing that pursuit and I was completely hooked. I still enjoyed the classics, but always felt more engaged when the climb was something new that was above my current limit. Climbs that don’t have grades yet are the best because it turns the struggle into something more natural.

    The Wide Boyz standard of try hard guided our crew, but I didn’t dare reach out—what would I say anyway? To my surprise, one day on Facebook, I received a friend request from Tom. A mutual friend wanted to connect us because of our shared love for the desert and new routes out there. I found out he and Pete were soon visiting again, and I told him I’d be stoked to meet up, if only for a brief interview. They went out of their way to make it happen, and we chatted at their room in the Lazy Lizard hostel in Moab for an hour or so.

    I’d hoped to create an article out of the interview, but I ran into a few problems. Immediately, I realized Pete was the kind of guy one would have to spend more than just an hour with to get a series of great quotes. He was shy and reticent, but so driven I knew he would be interesting. I began to think I’d have to get out climbing with him to really get to know him and to see what made him tick. To simply bust out a short article with a series of one-line quotes would be a disservice to the man. Tom was more of an extrovert, but I realized the same about him; I wanted to see them in action to know what they were really like. After talking for an hour, I could sense they wanted to get back out to their current project in Canyonlands, and my climbing partner and I were headed in the opposite direction, to Indian Creek. I left with scattered handwritten notes and more curiosity than ever about this duo.

    Though I think we’ll always call them The Wide Boyz, Tom and Pete had moved on to slimmer cracks. The object of their desire then, and now, is The Crucifix Project, another horizontal roof crack in Canyonlands, which demands a series of continuous mono finger jam campus moves that he estimates check it an a minimum of V14. In the meantime, while projecting The Crucifix on their last two trips, they’ve established several more roof climbs in Canyonlands, up to 5.14a, some that are three hundred feet long and require two lead ropes!

    During our brief exchange, I gave Tom some zines and a copy of one of my books. After finishing the book, which, among other themes, highlights my quest to find a lady while still living out the lonesome dirtbag dream on the road, Tom sent me a very kind message and also shared his own perspective. He shared how difficult it was for him to live the dirtbag dream while also being a good father and husband. That was something I’d never thought of and began to consider the fact that maybe not finding my partner in life until later on would be a blessing.

    At that point I thought, even if I didn’t have enough material to write about the Wide Boyz duo, I could put together a piece about Tom. One zine came and went, and I’d only asked him a handful of questions via e-mail. When Tom and Pete returned to the States last fall, I was too entrenched in my own climbing projects in The Creek to venture up to Moab and Canyonlands to check in on those guys.

    So far a feature on the Wide Boyz has eluded me. I would need to spend quality time with them, and thus far it’s yet to happen. However, I have had some good conversations over e-mail with Tom and wanted to share a little Q and A from those here in this zine. And, in everything I do in the desert, these two metaphorically stand above, with constant inspiration to try harder, give it more, and do it with humility and strength.

    Q: Can you tell me some about your most recent trip to the States? Are you finding that the Canyonlands region continues to provide more than enough challenges for you and Pete?

    A: The most recent trip to the States in the autumn was really a follow-up trip to the spring trip. Basically, we identified two really appealing objectives: The Crucifix Project and also loads of amazing first-ascent projects. The incredible thing about this region is the density of routes at the 5.14 and above mark…everywhere else in the world, it’s really hard to find cracks at this kind of standard, but down on the White Rim, they’re literally everywhere!

    Yes, maybe some of them might not be of the best quality, but if you reduce the total list down to perhaps 10 of the 5.14s down there, then you still have first-ascent projects that are waiting that would blow anything else out of the water. The aesthetics of the lines are incredible too. On the last day of the trip this time, we found yet another roof crack that was two hundred-plus feet and would easily be 5.14…and this is in addition to the other ten that are still unclimbed!

    Q: Would you describe climbing down there to be the ultimate in what you’re seeking in climbing right now?

    A: So the White Rim area perfectly suits what Pete and I have spent a long time doing—hanging upside down for long durations and doing reasonably hard climbing. We’re definitely not bouldering specialists, so these stamina-style routes really suit us, and let’s face it, the cellar underneath my house doesn’t have a single vertical crack, so I think we could even say that Pete and I are now specialised within the niche of crack climbing itself. We’d probably have a nightmare on something like Ruby’s Café (in Indian Creek).

    Q: Is The Crucifix still the long-term goal, or has that subsided? Was there some significant progress this year, or was it too wet?

    A: No, The Crucifix is a big, burning fire in my heart. I know Pete feels the same. This thing is so unfathomably hard for us that it taps into a new part of our psyche and preparation. It’s hard to describe that when you wake up each morning, you kind of only have one focus in your life—yeah everything else has to get done—but it’s with the thought of “would this work out ok for The Crucifix Project.” I think people on the outside might see this as too singularly driven and boring to the point of not being an adventure anymore, but to me it’s exploring a new part of myself and what I can deal with. It’s been easy for some time to keep rolling out 5.13s/14s as FAs, as it’s within our ability, but taking on such a big project and potentially failing gives you access to better understanding about yourself.

    Q: I would be psyched to hear more about your love for the American Southwest desert. Is it just the climbing, or are the downtime/slow moments just as important?

    A: The desert for me is a very important place, and I think you’d find my wife agreeing with this. Last year was incredibly busy, hectic, and hard work for me personally, and each time that I visited Canyonlands, I was kinda close to the breaking point. I need a lot of stimulation in my life as I have a really busy mind (I think that’s the way to describe it?), but this stimulation can be a bit of a killer as well.

    Our constant ability to be able to access information, communicate with others, and progress multiple facets of our life is exhausting, and I’m terrible for pushing it too far. When I get into the desert, the total shut off from my work, my family, and responsibilities is extremely beneficial. A bit of a “system reset” if you like. I couldn’t just hang out on the desert doing nothing of course (it’d drive me mad) but climbing on complex roof cracks is mentally involving but in a beneficial way. Then once you’re done for the day, you just sit down and eat and talk. Nothing more. As it’s always time spent with Pete, I end up laughing a lot, messing around, and just enjoying myself, like being a kid again. Yeah, maybe that’s it.

    The desert is like a kid’s playground but in an adult setting.

    Q: In some of our other conversations, you talked about the balance of climbing and family time. Can you tell me some more about how important the support of your wife is for your pursuits?

    A: I’ve often tried to explain to people how important Kim is in my climbing, my work success, and the ability to have a family, but I think they want to see the glamorous side of “whooh, Tom doing some training again…oh nice…another first ascent…” But the reality is that I’m training because Kim’s happy for me to spend good chunks of my home time doing this, and when I need to stay in the UK and work, then she’ll go away on holiday without me and with the kids. That’s really hard work for her, and if you add it all up, I’m definitely the one who gets to have a lot of the “rewards” of what I do, and Kim quietly supports in the background. One element that is significant for how we happen to work as a couple is also that we do it as a team. We think through what’s going to happen for the year and work out if it’s good for both of us long term. This does mean that I frequently turn down climbing days outside that would be “just for fun” because I know that I have to make my own sacrifice and work on those days to provide for the family. I can’t have the whole cake and eat it.

    Q: It seems like you have quite the scientific mind. In what ways does this help your climbing?

    A: I’m a very analytical person and process driven. In many aspects, I couldn’t care less about the outcome, except for the fact that it’s a challenge to do it if on first appearances it seemed impossible or unlikely.

    Underneath, I probably have quite a low opinion of myself, so I see amazing achievements as being really hard and not for me, but I’ve learnt that if I can break the big stuff into little chunks and take them on then, even I can do it. Having now done that for a lot of years, I’d say I’m learning to appreciate that self-worth isn’t that tied into success. It’s how you deal with it that counts.

    Q: Where are you at with your training in the winter? Do you create your training to peak at certain times, and do you rest heavily at other times?

    A: Training for me and Pete now almost entirely centers around mono finger strength and basic strength training. That’s it. The real thing that matters on The Crucifix is the ability to do mono-style V14 fairly easily and to be able to boulder very basic hard sequences. If you think that both of us have done perhaps just a few V11s in our entire climbing history (we hardly ever go bouldering), it might be a bit worrying! But, I trust the process, and I know that neither of us will ever be disappointed in ourselves if we put everything into it. Everything. That’s got to be the bottom line

    Q: Do you find that your passion for climbing comes and goes? Do you think you’re a lifer? Or do you think another interest might come along?

    A: Ah, this is a hard one! I’m not completely sure actually. I was talking to my mum about this the other day, and she said that since being a kid, I’ve been completely obsessive about things until I’ve won them or completed them, and then I’ll utterly change direction. I was like that with computer games, challenges, new skills, and other sports. If I felt like I’d “won” the thing, then it didn’t interest me very much afterwards. I do worry that The Crucifix will be like this, but then I think about how much enjoyment and friendship climbing has brought and also for so many years! Too much of my life revolves round it now I think, and I feel so relaxed in the climbing environment.

    Luke Mehall is the publisher of The Climbing Zine. His fourth book, Graduating From College Me, was published late last year. His fifth book, The Creek, will be published this fall. More of his work can be read at his new site: www.lukemehall.com.

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

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

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

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  • Technology and Climbing by Cyrena Lee

    May 9 • Locations • 444 Views

    If you are sick of new climbers coming in and ruining everything, do something about it.

    If you hate how distracted you are by technology, put the phone down and climb.

    If you love climbing outside, do something about it to save it.

    If you are dissatisfied in any way with the state of the world, go and change it.

    Before I started climbing nearly two years ago, I couldn’t imagine life outside of New York City. My view of the United States was similar to the infamous Steinberg drawing for The New Yorker that shows a stretch of flat land with bumps for mountains—in other words, there was nothing of note between the city that never sleeps and Los Angeles, the metropolis of the West. The beauty of nature is reduced to an unimaginative flat line for longtime city dwellers, accustomed only to the offerings of an urban jungle: shopping, food, Wi-Fi, bright lights, and ruthless ambition.

    by Cyrena Lee, Senior Contributor (spoiler alert, this piece is an excerpt from Volume 9, The New School Issue.) Art by Rhiannon Williams 

    New York was everything relevant, where time didn’t stop because every minute was busy working, producing or chasing something to see, to watch, to buy, or to consume. The only climbers I knew back then were of the social or corporate-ladder variety.

    Two years ago, in an unassuming old Daily News garage in Brooklyn, I stumbled upon rock climbing on a spring day. You know how the story goes—climbing saved my life. I was weak then, miserably hanging in limbo after leaving the fashion and start-up world, dissatisfied with my work and writing, and my destructive relationship was on its last leg.

    I fell. A lot. I hated not being good at something right away, but I kept going back because there was something attractive about climbing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Somewhere between falling on V1s and V2s, I fell hard for climbing and headfirst into this strange but alluring world where time slowed down. People were truly passionate about achievement for and in relation to themselves only, and encouraging of those around them.

    Soon I had a job at Brooklyn Boulders that combined my passion for writing and climbing, and a year later, I even broke up with NYC to move to Colorado.

    What I couldn’t quite put my finger on at first was this: climbing is arguably one of the last frontiers that is free from the chokehold grasp technology and the nonstop 24/7 state we’re currently trapped in, constantly staring at screens.

    Climbing demands focus and undivided attention to the present moment on the fringes of society, off in the mountains, with no real rules or structure, no set goals or KPIs. However, as it develops as a sport and industry, climbing will inevitably be engulfed by capitalism, technology, and social media.

    There are “now very few significant interludes of human existence (with the colossal expectation of sleep) that have not been penetrated and taken over as work time consumption time, or marketing time,” [Jonathan Crary, 24/7], and climbing may be one of the last modes of human existence that exists outside of the cultural hegemony of iPhone.

    But the iPhone flipped toward climbing is what simultaneously grows the sport from the fringes to the masses and manipulates its true nature.

    The seedy Brooklyn neighborhood, where the original Brooklyn Boulders is, is now trendy and no longer on the fringes, parallel to how the climbing industry has been rapidly evolving. We’re currently at a critical mass tipping point—the effect modern society has on climbing can be directly challenged by the effect climbing could have on modern society.

    Climbing as the Last Social Frontier Untouched by Technology

    Nearly every climber will speak about the meditative nature of the sport, and during an era where anxieties run high and mindfulness is trending, the focus training necessary is more valuable than ever. Nearly one in five Americans are afflicted with anxiety disorders. Kids and adults are being diagnosed with ADHD at higher rates than ever before, and cell phone addiction is rampant, due to the dopamine triggers of alerts, notifications, and likes.

    It is not surprising that many people clutch their phones closely by their sides at all times, as if protecting their own life—because in a way, our lives are contained within. Our contacts, our social media profiles, our photos, our apps, our maps—these are all functionalities people have grown highly dependent on. Even in social settings, people tend to quickly pull up Instagram or a newsfeed to fill the gaps in conversation, or worse, ignore what’s happening in front of them entirely.

    While most social activities rely upon consumption (of alcohol, food, or drugs), climbing relies on trust, mutual encouragement, and demands people to stay present in the moment and with each other. There’s a level of communication and awareness that creates a unique space for people to participate in an activity together, without the aggressive rules of traditional sport and concepts of winning and losing.

    Climbing quite literally takes people to the fringe of society and is an escape from the 24/7 state. The beautiful landscapes that normally surround rock make constantly checking your phone boring, allow humans to realign themselves with nature, and can help decrease the stress hormone cortisol.

    Paradoxically, the growth in popularity of outdoor climbing is due to the permeation of iPhones—climbers can share their weekend jaunts to showcase wildly beautiful shots of American dreamscapes like Bishop to Red River Gorge to stunning deep-water soloing shots in Thailand. For today’s professional climbers, maintaining a social media presence and amassing more followers is as much a part of the job as is climbing. Many “bucket-listers” visit climbing gyms just for that perfect Instagram post, just to show the world that they climbed up a wall on auto-belay. And the industry encourages this digital awareness of the sport, splashing relevant hashtags everywhere.

    #Climbing—disrupted

    Climbing is no longer completely foreign to the public imagination as famous climbers have been making their way into the mainstream media; Alex Honnold has been featured on 60 Minutes, Ashima Shiraishi on the Today Show, and Sasha DiGiulian is spotted in tabloids with a very psyched Jared Leto. Climbers at this level of fame and talent attract big followings on social media platforms, and with that, big sponsorships, giving them the funding to live their dreams like never before.

    Perhaps the biggest spectacle was when Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell made their famous ascent of the Dawn Wall. Every moment was meticulously recorded by their phones and the media; they were catapulted into fame, and with them, climbing. The New Yorker even ran an article shortly after, titled “Selling Rock Climbing in the Social-Media Era,” which interviewed Jorgeson at Brooklyn Boulders in New York City, astutely remarking that “climbing has turned into the new squash or tennis for a certain young professional set, projecting an air of health-conscious cool less frenetic than Crossfit and grittier than SoulCycle.”

    More climbing gyms are on the horizon, and admittedly, my day job focuses largely on marketing and telling the stories behind climbing in an effort to get more people to climb. Social media is key because, in this day and age, that is how most people connect with each other.

    But there is a difference between marketing climbing and marketing objects purely for consumption. The end goal for climbing is to get people to come in and actually connect, face-to-face. One could spend a hundred dollars a month drinking or on a new pair of shorts, or one could spend it on an experience and character-building activity like climbing. What’s also incredible about indoor climbing and technology is that it has made the sport of climbing more accessible for everyone, quite literally. Groups like Adaptive Climbing Group help those with disabilities start climbing, and City Rocks Mentorship programs help create opportunities for underprivileged youth to start climbing.

    Yet technology has yet to fully disrupt climbing in the twenty-first century. Most recently, Jon Cheng, a coder and climber in Boston, invented Randori, an augmented-reality climbing game that uses motion sensors and projections onto the walls. The video went viral, getting over two million views, demonstrating both the psych and potential behind what the future of climbing could look like once enmeshed with the digital world.

    Traditionalists, naysayers, and haters scoff at the sudden increase of gym climbers and incorporation of technology into the world of climbing. Perhaps they fear that capitalism will “ruin” the sport—but ironically, climbing is inherently a capitalistic game.

    The “True” Nature of Climbing: Conquer Yourself, Conquer the World

    Climbing is now undoubtedly a commodity. But it is still a way of life and embodies philosophy that can empower people to change their lives.

    It’s inherently a capitalistic sport because it fosters an extremely entrepreneurial mind-set. In the words of my fellow contemporary climbing writer, Georgie Abel, from a piece she wrote about climbing and privilege:

    “Okay, just to be sure, let’s talk about what we do when we go outside. We rock climb. Okay, let’s talk about how we rock climb. We try to get to the top of things. We view mountains as something to conquer, to stand on top of, to bag, to send. Then, after cutting down any trees and bushes in our way (often on indigenous land!), we cling to small fractures (that sometimes we’ve created on our own!) on rock faces, and if we do it without falling, we grade it, call it ours, and name it something we find inspiring or witty.

    In a nutshell, we conquer and name things. You know, for funsies! This doesn’t make us bad people. It just reveals something—our whiteness, our privilege.”

    Briefly, climbing is about conquering. And generally speaking, in the history of the world, the conquerors have been by and large white people. Because it is a privilege to be unafraid to go out and try something that nobody has done before, especially when you look like the people who have paved new paths ahead.

    Climbing is about conquering the self—to be able to quiet your mind in crux moments, to have the self-discipline to train your body to perform staggering feats of human strength, and to break all the rules society has set in pursuit of something that you love. It’s a pathway toward self-realization over our power to conquer nature and, to an extent, our reality. The mental fortitude that climbing builds in a person is why it is so critical that climbing become more accessible and diverse: with more people moving toward self-realization, we have better chances of equality.

    The ideas of capitalism are not dissimilar to climbing—and capitalism is not the problem of climbing; it is the hegemonic structures of a certain brand of attention economy capitalism that turns humans into passive consumers, which is the biggest problem that plagues our world at large.

    Climbing turns people into active creators. It allows people to imagine the world differently—I myself have never felt more empowered to make an impact on this world, especially at the tail end of an adventure weekend bouldering in the Rocky Mountain National Park. The height of the mountains around me left me in awe, just as the skyscrapers of the city once did. But the awe of the metal towers left me wanting of materialistic desires and the paths to climb up had already been paved and dictated by other people. The awe of the mountains leaves me peaceful and whole and ready to pave my own path in this world.

    But while the number of plastic holds will continue to multiply, the real rock of the world will not. The realities of the declining world around us and pollution of the crags cannot be ignored. If you care about climbing enough, you should ultimately care about protecting the world as much as projecting it.

    Climbing won’t remain on the fringes of society for much longer—and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because what climbing does is make room for new ideas, new connections, and fundamentally, new concepts on how to live. It still provides a pathway to an alternate mode of existence. It’s a sport that doesn’t have to play by anyone’s rules. It is crucial, now more than ever, for climbers to focus on how to live and how the world should be.

    We can either remain distracted, by technology, by social media, by the state of climbing, or we can choose to channel the power of climbing to realize another world, one that is not so distracted by the 24/7 state, to build a better future.

    The mountains have my attention captured more than I ever would have imagined. And yet, I am still tethered to the “real” world; my phone is never far off my side, and after all, my day job boils down to selling people the sport of indoor climbing, which is very much wrapped up in technology. Change is inevitable: climbing will rise in popularity, Ashima will go on to dominate and live her dreams at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and despite the moaning of traditionalists, technology and capitalism will do both incredible and terrible things for the sport of climbing, and for the world, depending on how we influence it.

    I will continue to leave my phone and the digital world off on the floor, savoring the moving meditation and beautiful surroundings around me, and will bring that focus back to the daily life that I lead. Technology, while it can be used as a tool of mass distraction, can also be effectively used to spread ideas that can be the catalyst in people to create a concrete impact. I will always continue to climb, but in the end, it is not about climbing my hardest but about conquering myself, to be able to use my force of will to liberate myself from external distractions and expectations of how I should live. And I will continue to write, to use technology to maximize the impact my words can have, and keep encouraging every person to break free and to start climbing up their own path to make their world better.


    Cyrena Lee is a proud Barnard College graduate and likes to write and think about how to live, technology, social commentary, and how to bring letter-writing back. She is fond of hot pot, traveling, lucid dreaming, reading, and learning new languages. Climbing is mostly jumping, as she has a negative-three ape index. You can read more of her work at www.cyrena-lee.com.

    This piece is an excerpt from Volume 9, The New School issue. 

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

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

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

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  • Springtime Crazy (a poem) by Georgie Abel

    May 8 • Uncategorized • 203 Views

    We’ve got that springtime crazy

    Our hearts have grown hungry under desert skies

    by Georgie Abel, Contributing Editor, author of Go West Young Woman. 

    art by Rhiannon Williams 

    We wanna take shots of lightning

    Use thunder to make heavy hip-hop beats

    Frost a cake with the snowcapped peaks

    Scoop the cookies-and-cream stars from the sky

    And press them on a waffle cone

    Just one taste of these vanilla bones and

     

    We’re addicted to the blooming cactus

    We know it won’t last us

    Because the summertime is coming

    But for now we

    Sip the springtime rains,

    Ring out the clouds with open

    Mouths and chug their milky nectar

     

    Because we’ve got that springtime crazy

    Our hearts have grown hungry under desert skies

     

    We wanna throw a slab of sandstone on the grill

    Sizzling and popping just like the blood

    Of our mothers, the thrill

    To just be breathing

     

    Synapsing and loud

    And now we crave a sage salad

    Dressed with the sap from a pine

    And a side of yucca fries

    Sprinkled with our salty tears

    Mined from these wild eyes

     

    Because we’ve got that springtime crazy

    Our hearts have grown hungry under desert skies

     

    Give us the moon!

    The waxing moon

    We know the moon

    How her face can be caramelized and sliced

    Sprinkled with a wildflower spice

    And her craters are filled with a cream

    Heavy and sweet

    Been surviving off those moon beams, oh God

    We can’t get enough

    The dark of winter left us so ravenous

     

    Because we’ve got that springtime crazy

    Our hearts have grown hungry under desert skies

     

    We wanna

    Talk about this new space

    Within us

     

    Fill it up with letting

    Indian paintbrush

    Melt on our tongue

    Ah, to be this young!

     

    We take the needles from a cactus,

    Push them into

    Our spine,

    Bathe our nervous systems in

    A brackish brine

    ’Cause we want something with desert resilience

    To make up our backbones and you know it’s

     

    Because we’ve got that springtime crazy

     

    And these hearts of ours

    These throbbing hearts of ours

    Have grown so hungry

    And of infinite size

    Under these ever-changing desert skies

    Georgie Abel is a climber, writer, and yoga teacher from the San Francisco Bay Area. She loves slabs, coffee, power spots, highballs, gin and tonics, poetry, running in the mountains, and not training. She writes about her adventures at www.georgieabel.wordpress.com.

    This piece is an excerpt from her book of poetry called Go West Young Woman.  It is also published in the latest issue of The Climbing Zine. 

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

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

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

     

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