• Independence Pass

    Hidden Dragons by Chris Schulte

    May 23 • Uncategorized • 359 Views

    I started climbing in Durango, Colorado, a small and isolated burg on the edge of the desert and the mountains, pushing up against the mesa farmlands that run along scarce western rivers. All climbing called to me: Mini routes in the alpine above Silverton, Telluride, and Ouray scared the hell out of me with choss, but saw me smilin’ at the sunrise with a few hundred feet of couloir below.

    by Chris Schulte 

    (note: this piece is an excerpt from Volume 8, The Old School Issue)

    I bouldered and made tiny solos at X-Rock and the Boxcar, trad climbed at East A, assayed frustrating fumbleproblems out at Turtle Lake, and made early forays into Sailing Hawks, back in the private-property days when it was said to be patrolled by a feller on horseback packin’ a six-gun.

    Sailing Hawks is this rather large, densely treed area that sits on the edge of town and features a few hundred problems and an unknown number of routes, all of which are accessible via trolley from your favorite coffeehouse downtown and a short hike through the Ponderosa pines and a maze of highly featured Dakota and Navajo blocks. Today, it’s known as Dalla Mountain Park and is woven with hiking and biking trails and featured in a guidebook that highlights a number of problems in this nifty and very accessible area. But back in those formative wild west days (1993-200whatever), the bouldering community consisted of about four super-hard alpinists and maybe four dedicated pebble wrestlers. The vast spread of stone that scattered the valleys and mountains was fruited with low-hanging plums, ripe and sour-sweet. To find a new line just took a short walk and a good cleaning.

    Back then, bouldering was a sideline for me. That era still kind of held a perception that bouldering was good training, but not all that good for much more, other than an excuse to have a beer in the sun. Maybe it might help you climb 5.13, if you were dedicated. The crew who showed me the ropes of no ropes was an interesting collective, with some esoteric views on grading. I just wanted to know what translated to 5.12 back then, but for grades, I got a rundown that went something like, “Well, okay…That’s a good warm-up. That’s a good harder one. That one is really hard. And that one hasn’t been done.”

    It really shaped my outlook. Years passed by, and as I made my way through icy pitches with water running up my sleeves and plodded through never-ending desert splitters, always with a mind on some frozen spire in Yonderstan, I began to realize I’d rather be back where I started—I’d rather be bouldering.

    The author on The Never Ending Story, Cresciano, Switzerland. Photo: Chris Schulte collection.

    The author on The Never Ending Story, Cresciano, Switzerland. Photo: Chris Schulte collection.

    From the moment I grasped climbing, I saw lines. I’ll never forget this day: We’d clambered up atop the Big East boulder at Turtle Lake in our half-dead skate shoes to smoke some grass. I guess I was sixteen. I’d always enjoyed the little flat summit, a white square patch floating in the scrub oak blanket that spread up bright in the blue sunlight of high, hot summer. Pale towers poke out of the hillsides that hem in the eastern edge of the valley, and cliffs hang higher on the skyline in tiers, hawks, breezes, and all. After floating atop this wide, cool-green swell for a half hour or so, we descended below the surface of the canopy and wandered trails through the bouldergarten ’til we reached the roadside block.

    A lean fellow, heavily tanned and with long, dark hair, was casually cruising through each problem on the face, fluidly moving up through the sequences, hanging at the lip for, perhaps, twenty seconds, and then reversing the line with an absolutely equal effort. Yes, this movement, this poetry, this dance, this quiet moment of martial combat, looked so easy, but of course it was not, and still isn’t, to this very day. I don’t know that fellow’s name, and I never saw him again as far as I know, but that day, I grasped the concepts of line, movement, and was graced with a glimpse of mastery.

    As I climbed through the established lines over a handful of years, I came across a group of holds with maybe a whisper of old chalk, or the hint of a brush’s pass up a run of tiny nubbins. In the early days, I could hardly pull on any of these wee edges and pebbles. Who could have done this? Could it be done?

    That’s when I began to hear the unwoven snippets that fabricated the legend of Duran.

    John Duran climbing in China. Photo: John Duran collection.

    John Duran climbing in China. Photo: John Duran collection.

    He was everywhere. Everywhere you found a hard line, John did it. Years ago. No pad. Solo. John did everything. John rides his bike to Shiprock and teaches kids on the rez and rides back to Durango in the evening to boulder alone by headlamp. Then he does it again the next day. Somebody found a group of blocks waaay up the hill from the blocs at the Hawks…“It looks like maybe a hold or two had been cleaned at some point,” was printed, witnessed proof that Duran had been there, done that, and in better style than you. It got to where we’d be in the most random faraway land of bushwack and find a pretty line, and we’d say John probably did it. And we’d believe it. It went on for years and weighted our experience in such a fashion as to prohibit the naming and grading of problems, leaving a deep-woods mess for anyone who wanted to tour the classics of the Durango area.

    Who the hell was this guy?

    Duran was the first Hidden Dragon I’d come across, and having been formed as a climber while practicing in such an isolated spot for so many years, his legend had a real affect on me. I suppose he was my first bouldering hero, in a way that made me consider what it was that made up a hero to me. Low key was the way back in the day, as half the time you thought you were trespassing. Duran was the pinnacle of low key. Back then, climbing V10 FAs would get you in a magazine. This guy was tossing off high-and-hard V9s (or Vwhatevers) across all the woods and hills I knew of and many I did not.

    It was fifteen years of climbing before I met John, and personally, it felt like a clip from an Akira Kurosawa film, shot at Turtle Lake. We climbed together a bit, without introduction, and after a pleasant warm-up and very little chitchat, he introduced himself as John. “I thought so,” I said. “I’ve heard of you. I’m Chris.”

    “I have heard of you,” the ninja said. I think a tumbleweed rolled by.

    They say you should never meet your heroes, but I certainly lucked out. John is one of the nicest people I’ve met, with a reservedness and presence that’s rare in the world. We talked local history, problems, and projects. We touched very lightly on round ideas, hinting at a Taoist sort of philosophy, and fled at the instant hint of common ground, so as not to pollute ideas with words, or perhaps to not waste words with a discussion that ultimately doesn’t matter. We’ve since climbed together a little, not nearly enough, and I’m still inspired by his drive and dedication. It’s a treat to take a walk with someone and share new lines. It was impressive and enjoyable to watch John repeat my own lines with a fluid style that favored deadpoints and lockoffs but with core and laser footwork. It was most incredible to take him to lines I thought I’d FA’d and have him tell me I was right, he never climbed that, but hey, it’s really good!


    These days, John is teaching first graders at an international bilingual school. He’s still climbing and still developing but in the faraway north of China. Great epic buttermilk-looking granite eggs and towers and domes are thrown about the countryside of his new home near Beijing, and little short notes share his new sport routes and boulders. It looks to be a land of endless lines and a whole new crop of folks to share with.

    A legend, when finely woven, produces a saint and an inspiration: a yogi, a master who makes a positive impact on the community, who inspires someone in some way.

    It turns out, everywhere you go has their hometown heroes. Low-key legends, folks who tow the line, clean the new, carry the local flag.

    They send the old school test pieces, at least out of respect, and they do it at home and abroad. You run into ’em at places like Hueco, or Bishop, or South Africa, sometimes Switzerland or Font. You run into ’em doing their thing, which is nothing short of practicing their art. And as it is with the gifted, we benefit from their practice too. I’ve been lucky to come into contact with several of these adherents over the years. Each has a style of their own, but all are linked by the absolute excellence of what they do.

    Another shot of Duran in China. Photo: John Duran collection.

    Another shot of Duran in China. Photo: John Duran collection.

    One of these heroes lives up and away between the mountains and the sea, under a dark evergreen canopy that cools the blocs and brightens the eyes for searching out the tiny nothings on clean stone. He’s mostly quiet, but animated with close friends. Well read and intelligent, he’s good for a conversation well beyond beta. He’s shopped at thrift stores for over twenty years, reusing, mending, passing on, wearing out. He drives Toyotas lovingly into the ground, crisscrossing the country. He got up one season and crossed the globe to ride a train and climb through India. He has camped and bouldered across Europe and beyond, always at the upper end of the scale. His FAs at home run from classic V0s to unrepeated V14s. There are many. He has literally run up through the numbers, in sequence, of most areas in North America.

    He has shrugged off sponsorship for years. You can’t even give the guy a pad: no strings, no pics or video, which he tends to shy away from—just have a pad, man!

    Instead, he works construction of sorts, and lives mostly in his car. Just goes along, pays his way, sees and climbs the world. We are so much the richer for his dedication to the life he has led.

    On the other end of the spectrum, there are some folks just passing through, en route to something other, something that for them has weight or meaning, and their volition is unsatisfied by the little riddles of climbing.

    I got to watch one grow up fast, from soft little roadside V8s to his first V13s.

    Personable but sometimes socially awkward, he was the type of nutty professor who would say with excitement “Hey! I did the thing the other day…what’s it called…they say it’s V13 or so…in the park…heel hook, tiny crimp up high…”

    “Uh, you maybe mean Nothing But Sunshine?” (An iconic V13 at Rocky Mountain National Park. Everyone knows this.)

    “Yeah! That’s the one!”

    He was an overachiever. Hell, he probably still is an overachiever. “What are you gonna do when you grow up?” we’d tease. He’d just started school at CU-Boulder and made much of his dwindling time by filling the spaces between classes with gym sessions.

    “Hmmmm,” he’d start, in a flat tone. “Save the world. I was gonna be an astronaut, but I’ve moved on from that I guess…I think…”

    And move on he did. He went to every university you’ve heard of, from Princeton to MIT to Cambridge. He did a stint in one of those massive colliders in Switzerland that makes antimatter. He is a Pretty Huge Deal.

    I don’t know if he’s still climbing, but before he left the Front Range, he’d climbed V14 and 5.14. He jumped on his bicycle one night and rode up to RMNP, hiked up the trail a couple more miles, and repeated a V13 test piece around dawn, turning around to hike and bike it back home for school. History is a great wheel.

    For others, climbing and developing, exploring, brushing and crushing, it’s just a way of life they were born for. Some places have a culture that has been infused, decanted, and barrel aged with climbing: Chamonix, Sheffield, Fontainebleau, Elbsandsteingebirge, Grindelwald. The doers that live and climb in these great meccas walk hard by rote, and do it after an electrical install, helicopter-assisted sustainable logging operation, or fitting a new off-the-grid home into the five-hundred-year-old shell of a gutted granite-block rústico.

    You can catch them sometimes, coming down the trail as you’re going up, just before brunch time. They are weathered and craggy with piercing eyes that could fell an eagle in flight, that could turn back the light of the sun, because they sent the line you wish you could project this morning, topping out sans whoop just as you did your morning Instagram whilst pooping. They worked a forty-hour week, too. Gotta earn in the off-season, between Patagonia or Baffin Island or western China or Fjordenburg or just a chill trip to Reunion.

    On the old version of the excellent website bleau.info one could read, almost biannually, a report such as this in the news feed:

    Monsieur Seaunseaux, a schoolteacher from (near Paris), has revealed a new area he has discovered some months ago. The beautiful zone, in the forest down the track from St. Eaux de Deuxdadé, has sixty-four problems to 7b and three circuits: white, blue, and yellow. And, according to Monsieur Seaunseaux, is ready to be enjoyed.

    Full time schoolteachers opening, not a problem or two, but whole areas with circuits and little trails, in a spot where folks have already been climbing and exploring for a hundred years!

    And it’s not just the secret army of developers of “moderate” areas. There is a random scattering of totally off-the-radar crushers who FA long-standing 8B bloc projects in thirty minutes. Or they repeat the newest new and, when pressed, give a quiet personal downgrade of some of the forest’s hardest problems. They sail the classic 8As and 8A+s like a glassy sea. You don’t know them from print or video, and the handful I’ve met don’t have much to say. They just like climbing.

    For them, climbing is just part of life: a Way, a Thing You Do. They have their jobs and lives, but they do like generations before have in the home of bouldering: they climb. A kind Rasta roomie once shared this wisdom with me, “You have your Job, but then you have your Works.”

    Sometimes we go out because we have to and sometimes because it’s too good not to. Sometimes the legends are not because of people and their desires, or weighty places and their histories, but because of a spirit. Some days it’s the moment, the feel. The wind is right, the shade and the cool dry. You feel the freedom from schedules, or needs, or wants. Sometimes we’re made the instrument of that dancing wind, and we’re carried up aloft to ride a whole day’s worth of perfection, measured out in terms of a force somewhat like gravity, maybe it’s relative, or old friend. What can you do for that other than to be thankful, to feel lucky?

    How many blocs have been passed by or dug out from wild weeds, mosses, and done for the doing, knowing it’s in passing, knowing it’s for today, and the moment? How many lines were done for the day, for your best friends, for your empty, hollow self, for some Red-Tailed Bubbahawk wheeling across the sky, speaking down to you alone in some high, empty valley?

    How many days of a certain kind of clean pleasure, finding and climbing, and just walking away, leaving it unnamed, ungraded, like a hidden garden up well beyond where folks will ever tread, but if they do, what luck for to be them on that day!

    It was the magic.

    It was the time.

    And someday, it will be legend.

    Chris Schulte has been on a weird vision quest for over twenty years, one of those where you’re not sure if you’re on the right track, but then suddenly it’s wide and easy and opens up to one hell of a view.

    This piece is an excerpt from Volume 8, available in print, and on Kindle.

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

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

    zine_cover8 (5)About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle

    We have also published three books: American ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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    From Midas’s Touch to A Green Thumb: Remembering Doug Tompkins by Joy Martin

    May 18 • Locations • 306 Views

    Doug Tompkins opens the door to a South American summer evening. At seventy-one—stooped and shuffling, a button-down shirt tucked into khakis and held up with a leather belt—he’s not exactly the climbing jock he once was. Looking up through kind, brown eyes, he shakes hands with us, and then he walks us into his stone-cottage estate overlooking Estancia Chacabuco in Parque Patagonia. It’s immaculate, with exposed beams, rustic-chic chandeliers, black-and-white photographs, floor-to-ceiling windows, and natural finishes.

    by Joy Martin 

    (an excerpt from Volume 8 of The Climbing Zine, The Old School Issue) 

    After introductions, I join him on the sofa, where I’m swallowed in divine white downiness—a luxurious moment for me, considering we were in the middle of a three-month backpacking honeymoon trip in Patagonia.

    Doug’s wife, Kris, hands me a deep glass of Chilean wine as the conversation flows, with Doug mostly interested in our plans for El Chaltén, a climber’s destination that didn’t even exist the first time he visited in 1968.

    Tompkins on the first ascent of the California Route, Fitz Roy, Patagonia 1968 Photo: Chris Jones

    Tompkins on the first ascent of the California Route, Fitz Roy, Patagonia 1968 Photo: Chris Jones

    When there is a break, I ask him about things I’d read on the Internet regarding his upbringing, a nontraditional, middle-class history that helped paved the way for his future billionaire status—like, why was Doug suspended from high school, never to return?

    He laughs, looking at me quizzically. “No one’s ever asked me that.”

    I blush. Or I might just be severely windburned.

    He shares the story, a classic tale I’ve heard told by many a white-haired man who grew up in the ’50s on the East Coast. It’s always something about a late night out with a girl in a car or broken curfews at the dorm, et cetera. One episode too many of revelry for the unruly mongrel, said the system.

    He asks if we’ve seen 180° South. Of course, says my husband, Nick. I’d never heard of it. Well, he goes on, have we heard of Mountain of Storms, the inspiration behind 180° South? No, we hadn’t. He moves to a big desk built into the wall and rummages around for a copy to share.

    The B movie cult-classic adventure is every Lost Boy’s wildest dream come true: your best friends in a burly man van, stuffed with your favorite outdoor toys, headed south for Neverland. For these young mountaineers, Neverland was Patagonia.

    Heralded as the ultimate dirtbag epic, Mountain of Storms was Doug’s idea. In July 1968, a 1965 Ford Econoline packed with gear, filming equipment, and an intrepid, motley crew of thirty-year-olds departed Ventura, California, for a six-month surfing, skiing, and climbing expedition down the spine of South America, with the trip culminating in December on the summit of Fitz Roy.

    The cast of characters included Doug, The Visionary, and some of the greatest climbers and skiers of the ’60s and ’70s. They called themselves the Fun Hogs.

    The Fun Hogs Portrait

    The Fun Hogs team photo after the Fitz Roy climb (L-R) Tompkins, Dorworth, Jones and Chouinard. Photo: Chris Jones

    Fast forward to January 2016. In search of the story behind the movie, I called one of the original Fun Hogs, Dick Dorworth, at his home in Sun Valley, Idaho. The jovial writer had just returned from a morning ski and was beyond thrilled to reminisce this boyhood adventure.

    When the trip first started, Dorworth wasn’t planning on climbing Fitz Roy, he tells me. He was just going to haul loads up to basecamp.

    “Doug invited me on this trip before I ever climbed,” says Dorworth, a former ski coach for the 1967 US Nationals team, which Doug was on as an Olympic hopeful. “Before we left, I spent a month in Yosemite learning how. I was so far over my head. In the movie, Doug says, ‘Dorworth didn’t have anything to fear because he didn’t know what to fear.’ In the end, I got up Fitz Roy with them. It changed my life.” Dorworth, who broke the 1963 world record for speed on skis with a blistering rate of 106 miles per hour reached in Portillo, Chile, is pretty sure Doug asked him to join the dudes’ trip because Doug wanted a good skier in the film.

    The Worst Skier in the entourage was Doug’s climbing buddy, Yvon Chouinard. One of the highlights of the movie is watching a young Chouinard piece turns together down the icy slopes of a volcano—not his forte, which at the time was crafting top-tier climbing equipment through his Ventura-based business, Pacific Ironworks.

    There was also The Dude Behind the Camera, Lito Tejada-Flores, a writer, filmmaker, publisher, ski instructor, and “the brightest guy I ever met,” Dorworth tells me.

    And, finally, there was The Long-Suffering British Bloke, Chris Jones, one of England’s greatest climbers, who they picked up along the way somewhere in Peru.

    I called Jones at his home in Sonoma Valley, California. Though he’s lived in the United States since the ’60’s, his British accent still reigns strong, adding that distinctive bit of sophistication to storytelling that only a Brit can manage.

    “Doug was younger than us, but he was the driving force,” says Jones over the phone. “Very mature for his age.”

    In 1964, at twenty-one, Doug had not only created the first freestanding tent but had also founded The North Face with his first wife, Susie Tompkins Buell, in North Beach, California. They sold the outdoor retail business for $50,000 at the beginning of 1968, and Doug used some of the money to pursue his passion of the time, adventure filmmaking.

    “Lito filmed the movie, but I was the only one with a camera,” says Jones, adding how ridiculous it was to be on “the trip of a lifetime and not show up with a camera.”

    The trip of a lifetime went as planned, more or less, for the Fun Hogs: bad surfing, okay skiing, and the incredible accomplishment of summiting Fitz Roy. The climb would take them twenty-five days to complete, with fifteen of those days spent hunkered down in an ice cave on the side of the mountain while a snowstorm raged. Their triumph was only the third ascent of the highest tower of Patagonia’s iconic skyline.

    “The weather was just shocking,” says Jones, a South Londoner who later penned the book Climbing in North America. “We were terrified of the weather. It took an awful lot of determination to stick with it. Doug had more skin in the game because we were traveling mostly with his money, so he was the most keen to make sure we got up the damn mountain.”

    “I think we all learned how to function in difficult situations without becoming unpleasant,” reflects Dorworth, laughing about how this is not always the case on epic adventures.

    “You don’t accomplish anything without believing in yourself,” says the now seventy-seven-year-old Dorworth. “But you can’t believe in yourself unless you believe in other people. In retrospect, I can’t believe he asked me to go on that trip. But he just said, ‘You’ll figure it out.’ Like all of us, he had a big ego, but he also had humility.”

    Tompkins by Chris Jones

    Tompkins by Chris Jones

    Besides serving as a character builder for the Fun Hogs, the road trip of ’68 was rich with innovation and ideas for the young men, who were each on the brink of life-changing decisions and individual impending successes.

    After the epic, Jones decided it was time to settle down.

    “The dirtbag life is a difficult habit to support. I got tired of it after a bit, decided I should have a proper career. After all, I could kill myself out there. So I got a wife, kids, dog, lawn. Chouinard said, ‘Jones, don’t ever buy a lawn mower. It’ll be the end of you.’”

    Meanwhile, roused by Patagonia’s inhospitable terrain and the endless challenges of the elements, not to mention the countless hours spent sitting around in an ice cave talking about life, love, and other mysteries, Chouinard would return to California, move on from sculpting pitons and instead open outdoor-retail company, Patagonia, Inc., in 1973, showcasing the unforgettable skyline of the Fitz Roy Massif as the logo.

    Doug also ventured back to California, and, using the rest of the money from The North Face trade, joined his wife, Susie, in launching Esprit, a women’s fashion company that boomed to a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.

    As the business grew, Doug continued to travel the world, racking up first ascents from the Himalayas to the Andes, and from California’s Sierra Nevada to the Canadian Rockies.

    “As a climber, he was very impressive,” writes Jones on a recent SuperTopo forum memorializing Doug. “The sort of person who could have done almost anything in that era.”

    He’d also discovered a love of kayaking, which of course he was naturally good at, sending numerous first descents in Africa and the Americas.

    When he was back in California during those years, he enjoyed the fruits of his labor, collecting artwork, driving a Ferrari, and tastefully decorating his home and offices, an aptitude he picked up from his parents, who were antique dealers and decorators.

    But as the material-crazed ’70s and ’80s unfolded, so did Doug’s awareness of the negative environmental impacts of the fashion industry.

    “I was selling useless stuff to people who didn’t need it” was one of his more common quotes.

    He’d discovered a fresh worldview from his hero and friend, Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher who coined the term deep ecology, an approach to environmentalism that dealt not just in action but in changing the way we think about our role on Earth.

    Doug took these attitude adjustments and applied them to advance the culture of environmentally responsible business practices—a trend that Chouinard, as well, was weaving into the fabric of his company, Patagonia, Inc. Together, the climbers and ahead-of-their-time prophets set the tone for what is now a core value and modern-day mainstay in the outdoor industry.

    Jones, happily settled with his lawnmower and life in Sonoma Valley, shares in both Chouinard and Tompkins’s ecological passions and is quite involved in local environmental-protection programs.

    To say these Lost Boys have green thumbs is a drastic understatement.

    Doug, in particular, devoted the final twenty-five years of his life not to conquering mountains but rather to saving them. Like many climbers before him, such as John Muir and David Brower, Doug became an environmentalist like no other.

    “It’s almost ironic to be talking about Fitz Roy when his later contributions were so great,” says Jones.

    In 1989, he sold his shares in Esprit to his then ex-wife, Susie, and, two years later, moved to the wilds of Patagonia to be an organic farmer.

    Over the next couple of years, he founded the Conservation Land Trust and, for his first project in 1991, Doug bought some 800,000 acres of ranchland, and its surrounding mountains and waters, halfway down Chile’s skinny spine. After nurturing the gnawed forests and creating interpretive trails throughout the jungle-laden volcanic region, Doug welcomed the public to experience what is now called Pumalin Park.

    In 1993, a witty, wise, lovely forty-three-year-old conservationist from California, Kris McDivitt, bought a one-way ticket to visit Doug, who she’d met twenty years before through Chouinard when she was Patagonia, Inc.’s—a then little-known brand—twenty-three-year-old CEO. The two flourishing preservationists had spent the ’70s and ’80s building their respective corporate empires and raising families, Kris married to a climber and Doug married to Susie, marriages that eventually dissipated.

    When brilliant, passionate Kris showed up in Patagonia, Doug, somewhat taciturn and more serious, found that she was his perfect counterpart in conservation. So they got hitched, and a new legacy opportunity continued unfolding for the two already-successful business moguls.

    The Tompkinses rooted into their calling to conserve, preserve, and educate. Together, they used their time, money and talents to purchase over two million acres of damaged land across the windswept tail of South America, with future goals to leverage at least eight million more.

    Protecting more property on Earth through conservation efforts than any other private individuals, the dynamic duo thus sealed a place in history as two of the world’s greatest conservationists: Kris—the eloquent speaker and people person—and Doug—the visionary.

    But the Tompkinses’ vision goes beyond restoring scarred hectares to their original beauty. The ultimate aim of their projects is to eventually return the land to the government as national parks.

    “National parks are the best expression of social equity that there is,” Doug once wrote. “It’s like paying our rent for living on the planet.”

    In 2000, Kris founded Conservacion Patagonica and in 2004 purchased Estancia Valle Chacabuco. Ten years later, this formerly overgrazed ranch is now Chile’s newest national park, Parque Patagonia, featuring 200,000 acres of fence-free, legendary magnificence, where pink flamingos stand on matchstick legs in revived wetlands, and long-necked guanacos animate tawny grasslands that wave in incessant breezes. Blue rivers race through convoluted valleys where Andean condors soar near glaciated peaks, and unclimbed mountains call to the curious.

    The Tompkins eco saga is compelling, driven by a love of Patagonia and insatiable zeal to save the planet one acre at a time.

    But the clock is ticking, I wrote in my journal after our brief soiree with Kris and Doug in 2014 in Parque Patagonia. Their dreams to break the fences of overgrazed ranches, restore wildlife to their natural habitats, and derail the missions of megadam investors can only be met with the sword of sustainability and, as Kris told me in a phone interview, the support of “a planet going to hell in a hand basket.”

    “We’re not young,” a spry sixty-five-year-old Kris reminds me. “We’re racing against the clock, and we have a list of things to do before we’re gaga or dead.”

    She told me this in October of 2015. Two months later, while kayaking on Lago General Carrera with his climbing buddies from days of yore, Doug’s boat flipped in the six-foot waves created by Patagonia’s relentless winds. Despite superhuman efforts from his close comrades, including Chouinard and Rick Ridgeway, Tompkins was in the sub-forty-degree waters for over two hours and, after being flown to the nearest hospital, died of severe hypothermia. He was seventy-two.

    “The thing about Doug is that everything he ever did was an adventure,” writes Tejada-Flores in an e-mail to me. “Not just his climbs and first descents of wild rivers, or flying a light plane in the toughest mountain environment in South America. Same with business and later with his conservation work. He never chose the easy path. It was never obvious; it was always bold and always an adventure.”

    Doug marched to the beat of his own drum, one of those rare souls who didn’t need the résumé-building criteria of society to help him along the way. He, like all great leaders, carved his own path.

    “Doug was the most street-smart, savvy human being I ever met,” shares Dorworth. “You could throw him out in the desert with no clothes on and a stick, and within a week, he’d have an empire.”

    And so Doug’s bequest lives on in the empire of the great outdoors, where his stalwart wife carries the torch of their efforts with an even stronger fervor than before.

    Doug’s body was buried in his favorite place on Earth, Parque Patagonia, where we first and last met. Before we left that evening in November 2014, I asked Doug another question.

    “What’s your favorite ice cream?”

    He smiled, having just shared that his latest passion of the time was the ice cream business of a friend of his.

    “Rum raisin.”

    So fitting, I thought. Textured, intoxicating, quirky. Of course, he couldn’t pick vanilla.

    That happy hour in the Tompkins home passed quickly, too quickly, as we sat in rapture, listening to Doug and Kris talk and laugh, both relaxed in their cozy abode.

    The author with Tompkins. Photo: Joy Martin collection

    The author with Tompkins. Photo: Joy Martin collection

    We departed dazed, inspired, and in love with those two remarkable, old school outdoor-industry and environmental pioneers. Their drive from deep within sparks from eyes that have seen more than I can imagine, and the stories they have from years of living a thousand lives is too much for my ever-asking mind.

    So I walked away as one who had been welcomed into something grand. And it follows me still, like Rick Ridgeway so wonderfully wrote on the Patagonia, Inc., blog, The Cleanest Line, of a “profound realization that Douglas Rainsford Tompkins is surviving, more strongly than ever, inside us. He is pushing on us already, reminding us that ‘no detail is too small,’ inspiring us ‘to commit and then figure it out,’ helping us realize that the first commitment is to beauty, because out of beauty comes love, and only with love can we hope to approach his inextinguishable tenacity to protect what is beautiful, what is wild.”

    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 

    This piece is an excerpt from Volume 8, available in print, and on Kindle.

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

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

    zine_cover8 (5)About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle

    We have also published three books: American ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • Verdon 1980s. maybe '86

    The Long Run, a profile of Alan Carne by Luke Mehall

    May 16 • Locations • 300 Views

    “There were no girls when I started climbing [in England],” Alan said, in a tone more serious than joking.

    I’d just met Alan Carne only twenty-four hours before, on a warm September day seeking refuge in the shade of the 4×4 Wall at Indian Creek, and we instantly became friends, that kind of instant friendship that only the climbing community provides. He was rolling solo, and we had a little crew, and he began talking us up.

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

    We were at the wall doing some filming for a project we were wrapping up, “Last Thoughts on the Dirtbag,” which was my own response to several articles and films that had been made in the last couple years debating whether anyone was really a true dirtbag anymore.

    Alan, who is originally from England and is fifty-five years old with forty years of climbing experience, was like the answer to all my searching.

    He had all the answers, but there was just one thing I couldn’t wrap my head around. No girls around. That must have been the worst part of climbing in England “back in the day.”

    There are some people that roam this earth who are clearly given an excessive amount of energy and enthusiasm. They can be the best, or the worst, the most inspiring, or the most annoying; it can be a blessing, or a curse; the energy can be properly channeled or funneled into negative behavior patterns. Alan Carne is one of those people; his enthusiasm runs so deep it’s impossible not to notice it immediately upon meeting him.

    Alan on Superette Crack Photo- Greg Cairns

    Carne climbing Superette Crack, Dove Creek Wall, Indian Creek. Photo: Greg Cairns

    Enormocast host, and kinda famous climber, Chris Kalous has known Alan for a decade plus. Kalous seconds the notion of how the sport fits Alan: “I can’t imagine him operating in any other world. He’s really quirky, kind of like an absent-minded professor. His enthusiasm is like that of a little kid. He’s so built for climbing, and climbing is so built for him. Without trying to sound cliché, he’s someone who has truly found his calling.”

    This last fall, Alan, who lives in the South of France, had a banner season. After starting his trip to the States in Indian Creek, he quickly shot over to the Black Canyon, where he flashed Tague Yer Time, a 5.12+ Grade V, that attracts plenty of suitors but rarely sees someone send the crux pitches first try. After that, he made his way to Yosemite, where he teamed up with Brette Harrington and Marc-Andre Leclerc, sending 5.13 pitches with climbers half his age.

    The roots of the legend that is Alan Carne are like that of a flower growing in the concrete. He grew up poor in the Salford area of Manchester, England, one of five children raised by a single mother. “My dad abandoned the family, and we all learned to be self reliant. We just figured things out. It was a rough existence; everyone was really poor and had been for over a hundred years. There were no jobs, and the schools were terrible.”

    Like a glimmer of hope in the distance, which may or may not have been real, were gritstone cliffs. Young Alan made his first trips out to the cliffs by bicycle, putting in forty miles just to go up there and hang out. “Mom was concerned, but she was so busy, it was easy for us to take off.”

    Eventually, he spotted some climbers out there and decided to team up with his mates to pull their resources. They collected an old-fashioned sailing rope and used hip belays, while climbing in hiking boots. He learned to tie a bowline knot out of a book at the local library. “And that’s how it started,” he added.

    He noted that he had to grow up quickly because of his situation. “I get the impression you’re younger for longer these days; kids aren’t as self reliant. We just had to be adults a bit more earlier.”

    The late Derek Hersey, a prolific free soloist, who would later gain notoriety for his solos in Colorado and Yosemite, was one of the climbers around in Alan’s younger days. So was Jonny Woodward, another legend who left his mark on the American desert and beyond.

    Stoney Middleton, in the Peak District, became the central meeting place for his crew of climbers. No one had a car, and everyone was living poor. “We lived on the doll, on like twenty-some dollars a week, and we were just hitchhiking everywhere.”

    It was true dirtbagging—the kind of living that makes modern dirtbagging look like a vacation. “We would sleep in caves and all sorts of strange places. If there were no other option, we’d even sleep in bathrooms that were warmer than sleeping outside. The gear was crap, routes were dangerous, and the weather was (often) shit. They were dark times. The good ol’ days weren’t always that good.”

    Eventually Alan managed to get into a university. “The government would support you,” he said. “I did that for a couple of years but dropped out because all I wanted to do was go climbing.”

    Everything changed for him in 1979 when he took his first trip to the Verdon Gorge. Motivated by a Mountain magazine cover photo he saw of Ron Fawcett, he just thought, “Whoa, I’m going there.” True to form and necessity, he hitchhiked there. Who would he come across shortly after arriving, but Fawcett, who he described as one of the best climbers in the world at the time. “He asked me if I wanted to go climbing the following day, which totally blew my mind; it was a huge boost and validation. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, [the Verdon] made me look beyond England and The Peak District. I started to see that climbing was my future and my whole life eventually; it was the only thing that was truly driving me.”

    A young Carne in the Verdon Gorge, France. Photo: Alan Carne collection

    A young Carne in the Verdon Gorge, France. Photo: Alan Carne collection

    In 1985, he met his future wife, Kate, who was also a climber. They started traveling all over Europe. Always, in the back of his mind was the Verdon. “I wanted to live there but never figured out how that would happen.”

    In the early nineties, with a small inheritance, he was able to buy a house there in a tiny village next to the gorge. He learned French. He began guiding there, and eventually they were able to move to the Verdon full time.

    Just like dreaming of the Verdon while still in England, he had visions of the United States. Hersey had gone, and never came back. Woodward was there too. “I always wanted to go there, but I could never afford the plane ticket,” Alan said.

    Of course, he went to Yosemite, first in 1985. In 1999, he climbed the Salathe Wall on El Capitan and enjoyed the experience but wasn’t sure if aid climbing was his thing. “It’s hard work, heavy, and slow,” he said. “It’s not what suits me.”

    The most defining moment of his climbing career came in 1996 in the Verdon. He was rappelling in to climb the classic Pichenibule, and at a hanging belay, they pulled the ropes from the previous rappel. The knot joining the two ropes got caught in a crack, and he rushed the process to free it, tying in to the free end and getting belayed up. He unstuck the knot and rigged the rappel, again in rushed manner. Then, as he was rappelling down, the unthinkable—he rappelled off the end of his rope. He had hastily forgotten to re-equalize the knots back at the anchor.

    He fell by his partner, Emil Mandysczewsky, hitting him, which slowed the fall.

    Somehow, someway, like a cat that always lands on its feet, he caught a foothold, and then latched onto the wall. The ground was over six hundred feet below, certain death, and if not death, worse than death. His ankle was broken in the impact. He had fallen almost sixty feet. Still, he managed to claw his way to the belay, and the two climbed out, broken ankle and all.

    “The huge adrenaline rush really like slowed down time, and I was able to react properly,” he said. “I can still remember what it was like to be falling in air, down the wall. It was so traumatic.”

    Alan was out of climbing for four months but was eager to get back into the game. He gradually got back on lead, but his head was “totally gone.” “I could barely lead bolt to bolt on 5.10s at first.” Within a month of getting back to it, he was already climbing 5.12c again.

    “I could have given up climbing for good then. But, I realized, I was alive, and I had a future. I was more overjoyed than ever to be alive and to be climbing. More than that, it was time to slow down a little bit. From that experience, I learned to think things through more. I was in a rush [when the accident happened], too much of a rush. I take my time more now. That’s also part of getting older, being more thoughtful and also being less self obsessed.”

    He added, “It’s also interesting to note that at that time I had been climbing in the Verdon for seventeen years, and was completely at ease in this big wall terrain. I was oblivious to the exposure and performing all the regular safety and rope maneuvers unconsciously, without a second thought. I wasn’t thinking the process through anymore and an accident like this was waiting to happen to me. I was as comfortable on those walls as I was walking down the sidewalk. The problem is the consequences of a slipup on those walls is different to slipping on the sidewalk.”

    In the few days I climbed with Alan in Indian Creek, that thoughtfulness he later cultivated after the accident is apparent. Never have I seen a more precise crack climber. Kalous, who was with Alan when he flashed Tague Yer Time in the Black Canyon, described his prowess as one that comes from forty years of being on the rock: “It’s a well of experience that he’s digging from, and not just power. He can dig super deep. There’s this singularity of focus that Alan has; he really knows what’s coming and knows how to read the rock. I think a lot of this comes from being an old school climber in England. Back in the day, you had to have this control; this precision, traditional climbing demanded that. His climbing is really marked by that control more than anything.”

    Brette Harrington, a young professional climber, who was up on the Muir Wall with Alan, met him after he sent one of her projects in Squamish. “I was so impressed by this small British man with so much energy and a big smile,” she said. “He has so much enthusiasm, motivation, and optimism about climbing. We’ve talked about the different generations, and I’ve been deeply inspired by his outlook. Alan continues to learn from the younger generation, and takes what he knows from the older generations. He’s special in that he has never lost his spirit for climbing and can connect with people of all ages because it is climbing that brings us together.”

    Carne in the Super Bowl cap, Indian Creek

    Carne in the Super Bowl cap, Indian Creek

    As a community, we respect performance, and when that stretches out so long, as it has for Alan, some might wonder where the secret lies. Without a doubt, for Alan, it is, at least, partly his enthusiasm. He’s never looking behind for his greatest days, he’s still striving for them in the moment, and the near future. Of course like anyone living so close to the edge for so long, luck is another factor. But what does he think?

    “Well, for starters (other than the broken ankle) I’ve never had any serious injuries. I never had kids and those types of responsibilities either, which means I never really stopped climbing. When I’m not climbing, I don’t feel alive in the same way, so I keep climbing.”

    A singular focus is something both Kalous and Harrington referred to when describing Alan. Even in the short amount of time Alan and I spent in Indian Creek and interviewing him over the phone, that word—singular—comes to mind. Each and every time we interacted, it always came back to Yosemite and free climbing on El Capitan.

    “Alan has told me that the long-term projects are the most worthwhile,” Harrington added. “To choose the line that inspires you more than any other and that it will take dedication. Don’t bother with the easy ones because those memories don’t last, but go for the challenge and put in the time; it makes the difference in the end.”

    His eyes, and his heart, are now set on the Pre Muir, a variation of the Muir Wall, which he feels is a better, more aesthetic line. He likes the idea of doing Freerider as well but noted that “the crowds kind of put me off for that one.”

    Alan also noted that his true dirtbag roots still play to his advantage, being able to live and travel frugally and hunker down in a tent when necessary. “I don’t need a plush van, like everyone seems to have these days. I can still be a bit tough when I need to. Living in a tent allows me to be closer to nature as well, I suppose.”

    And then he added, “Maybe when I’m old, I’ll get a van.”

    This piece is an excerpt from Volume 8, available in print, and on Kindle.

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

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

    zine_cover8 (5)About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle

    We have also published three books: American ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • down canyon (north chasm, home of the cruise on the right)

    Benighted in The Black Canyon – (excerpt from American Climber by Luke Mehall)

    May 7 • Locations • 1405 Views

    My path as a climber had to face a most real enemy: pure unadulterated fear. This fear manifested itself in the biggest baddest canyon, nearby, the most intimidating chasm in Colorado, and even the entire United States, The Black Canyon.

    Excerpt from American Climber, the new memoir by Luke Mehall

    Screen shot 2016-03-23 at 10.01.54 PM

    American Climber is available in print and on Kindle

    “The Black” as we called it, was basically in our backyard. Had it been further away I could have never faced it, never seen the terror or transcendence it has to offer. Since it was close, only an hour and a half away, there was no other option to face it if you really wanted to call yourself a climber.

    My buddy Gene, 5.14 Gene we called him, after a Halloween outfit he wore so perfectly one year, an eighties brightly colored spandex get up, had the enthusiasm of ten climbers. He was the kind of guy who would be standing on a bar yelling, “Let’s get wild” at two in the morning, and then crush 5.12s the next day. One day, when I proposed we did a big climb in The Black, called The Cruise, he was on board with no hesitation.

    It could be the suicides. More people die from suicide than climbing, exponentially, in The Black. Was it their spirits that haunted the inside of this chasm, this giant gaping hole in the earth? Was that why I could never sleep properly in the campground before tomorrow’s climb? I’ve heard the ancient people, the Utes, the inhabitants of the land before the white man came along, believed the canyon was haunted as well. But, I am not a religious man, nor a superstitious man, and I don’t try to come up with answers to the big questions, I’m just here. And, when I was there, in the throes of the battle of mind and body, climbing a steep pitch of pegmatite split granite, I felt more alive, more in the moment, and clearer than at any point in my existence.

    Gene and Luke in college.

    Gene and Luke in college.

    We arrived at night, too late, drinking Red Bulls on our drive and smoking weed. We watched the World Series, Gene a child of the East Coast was rooting for his Red Sox, so I obliged and watched with him. I don’t recall if they won or lost. I do, however, remember this climb of The Cruise.

    We awoke with the darkness, after fitfully tossing and turning for a few hours, so basically there was no solid sleep. Sleep is the magic ingredient for life, as far as I’m concerned, and I don’t operate well without it. At this point in my climbing, I wanted to test myself. Sure I was a lifestyle climber, but I wanted to grow. I wanted to prove myself. Not for recognition, but for inner growth. The tests that the Black Canyon offered were more memorable and more valuable than anything higher education presented in the classroom.

    So Gene and I woke up, ate oatmeal, slammed coffee, pooped, and shouldered the ropes and gear as we slipped into a gully of poison ivy and fear. The sun came up as we found the base of the route. We were already fatigued and tired, and had we known the angle of repose that an experienced climber has we would have suggested something smaller, easier. That said, a climber can only gain experience through experiences. Everything else is just bullshit, talk, and the world has enough of that.

    We looked at each other with the eyes of eternity before we started up. Gene led the first part, a wandering fractured slab, that leads to the base of a giant wide crack. As I belayed and looked up the wall in front of us seemed infinite, that the top was so far away I couldn’t conceptualize an end in sight. And these are the greatest climbs, when one is fully engaged with the experience, having no idea how it will turn out.

    The off-width, wide crack was my lead. I wanted it, but only in the concept of an idea. The actual climbing of the crack was part horror, part beauty. The crack, wide enough to get my elbows and knees in, made me work for it. The Gunnison River slowly roared below, and soon my voice would be muffled, we would only communicate in the brotherhood of the rope, when I would pull up the rope to clip Gene would know exactly what I was doing. When I ran out of rope and pulled it tight to Gene he would have to start climbing. Two figure eight knots together, two knots of eternity on each end of a ropelegth.

    Jamming my elbows and knees in, in fear, a simple math equation, a puzzle that demanded athleticism and the management of the mind. I was also climbing like an amateur, even though I had some Black Canyon climbs under my belt, I still fumbled and made movements like a scared beginner. I wore a small pack, filled with a hydration bladder and snacks for the climb, pears and some lemon bars my girlfriend had made.

    As I was a hundred feet from Gene, my body slammed into the crack, I felt a sensation of water dripping down my back. The hydration bladder had leaked and it dripped all the way down to my feet. I tried to move upwards and my shoes were covered in water. I didn’t have a piece of gear in for twenty feet, and I panicked. My heart beat faster than it ever had in my entire life. Relax. Breathe. These are rarely followed but useful mantras in everyday life. In climbing a simple mantra can keep you alive. The fear is always greater than anything else, you tell yourself. Just breathe, you can get through this.

    I took my hand, put chalk on it, and rubbed the chalk on my feet. I prayed to God. I talked to myself like a drunken fool. I finally composed myself, continuing upward progress until the rope got tight. I was still thirty feet from the next belay ledge and had no more rope. Gene would be forced to start climbing, not knowing whether or not he was on belay. He wasn’t. I went into survival mode and moved, inch-by-inch, off-width climbing, one of the slowest forms of movement known to man.

    I pulled up to the belay ledge and felt like I was going to puke. It took me hours to climb that pitch, I was humbled, hungry, hobbled, a mess of a man, and we still had a thousand feet of granite above us.

    Dave led the crux pitch, a dihedral that lasted a ropelength, delicately dancing up on dime sized edges, placing gear when he could and running it out when he couldn’t. I was amazed at his skill, and didn’t know if I could have led that pitch. I climbed slow and desperately, already exhausted in the autumn sun.

    The next pitch was my lead. It was a gently overhanging dihedral with good holds. I grasped for them and my forearms failed me, cramping, unable to perform the basic task of holding on. I told Gene to lower me back to the belay. He did. I was wasting precious time, but to mention it would have been to waste more time. Gene was in better shape than I was and went up to take care of business. He did. The sun was fading.

    I led up and got off route, wandering up a granite slab to nowhere and then climbing back down. We were barely halfway up the wall, and had only an hour of daylight left. I finally got on route and made a belay at the base of a massive flake. When Gene reached my perch the sun had set. We had several pitches to go, probably seven hundred feet, and talked it out. We were both so exhausted we couldn’t bear to continue in the darkness. We didn’t want to go down because we would have to leave all our pieces as anchors, hundreds of dollars in gear, our most valuable and important possessions.

    So we hunkered down, our first benightment. Time stopped and a great darkness overcame us. It finally happened. An epic mistake of inefficiency. It was not like some climbing mistakes though, all we had to face was suffering at the moment, not injury or death. Sure, you could die in a benightment, if weather moved in and you or your partner became wet and hypothermic, but the stark clear sky suggested that would not happen. We just had to suffer.

    Luke's "benighted" face.

    Luke’s “benighted” face.

    And we did. We didn’t speak for a while, not out of anger towards one another, but for indifference at the situation. We were supposed to be celebrating on the rim, with the darkness below, instead we drank nothing, our water was gone, and we were one with the darkness.

    The ledge was just enough to sit upon, nothing else. We started to shiver and huddled together, wrapping the rope around us for some protection. We were too cold and uncomfortable to sleep. An eternity went by, and then another eternity. We checked our watch for time and were always disappointed.

    We talked about what we wanted. We wanted food and water, and a woman to hold for warmth. We rubbed each other’s shoulders, trying to keep warm. We were cold, on the verge of dangerous cold. I thought of my girlfriend, Christina. I longed to hold her tight.

    In the middle of the night Gene dropped his headlamp. It fell twenty feet down in the rock and we could see it, but there was no way we would get it. Somehow I’d packed an extra, tiny headlamp that he could use for the rest of the night.

    We waited and waited, and lifetimes seem to pass by. When that sun hit us it was the most glorious feeling in the world. We greeted the sun as our God. It blessed us with warmth, and we forced ourselves to soldier on. Climbing should be like this, I knew then and forever. For you should have to suffer for your dreams. You should have to prove to your dreams that you are worthy. Some dreams, like climbing dreams, often demand lives, they demand that young men or women are killed in their prime; such dangerous dreams do we have as climbers.

    On day one I was the weak link. I took too long on my leads and was unable to perform on others. On day two I had some chance at redemption. Gene was feeling extremely dehydrated and requested that I lead. I obliged, and I felt like I was climbing for the both of us, you always are in a partnership, but this day felt different, this felt like survival climbing, which I guess the nature of climbing has its roots in survival.

    The second lead of the day involved a traverse with over a thousand feet of air beneath my feet, feeling it out, discovering how the holds felt and the best way to lean into them. On these leads I think I discovered I was truly a climber because I didn’t hate it. So much had gone wrong, we were out of food and water and my body felt terrible. But, this, the movement upwards for survival, somehow there was a great divine purpose.

    The exposed traverse high up on The Cruise. (note: this photo was taken on a subsequent climb, years after the story being written about here)

    The exposed traverse high up on The Cruise. (note: this photo was taken on a subsequent climb, years after the story being written about here)

    Gene felt worse and worse and depending on me more, which somehow made me feel better. We moved at a snail’s pace up the wall as it became more and more fractured near the top. And, finally it was over.

    We craved water more than anything. Then we drank the sky. It was so blue, and we felt so blessed to be alive. It was a privilege to suffer. We knew that then. Soon, I had what we wished we had more than anything in the world while freezing and starving on that ledge throughout the night: food, water, and a woman.

    That night I held my girlfriend tightly. Under the cover of blankets and love a journey had been completed, and the magic of the Black Canyon was alive in my heart.

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

    Screen shot 2016-03-23 at 10.01.54 PM

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

    zine_cover7 (4)

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

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

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  • Sticky Rock Men's

    Gear Review: Garmont Sticky Rock

    May 6 • Gear • 179 Views

    In the process of looking for a new approach shoe that I could also do some running in I came across the Garmont Sticky Rock.

    Retail: $145.00 

    Over the last three months I’ve tested these out on the local trail system, and on approaches across the American West, mostly in the Moab desert area. For approaches these shoes have a great balance of support and traction; the name of the shoes certainly rings true with a Vibram sticky rubber compound outsole. These shoes are right in their element scrambling over rocks with heavy packs. The dual density midsole offers just the right amount of support, and most importantly the shoe withstands some use and abuse. After almost three months they are still in great shape, and will certainly last for many more approaches. For multipitch climbs they also have a key clip in loop; I’m always surprised when approach shoes don’t have this clip in point. They are also light enough to haul up on your harness without feeling burdensome.

    They also perform well for running. I think this is a somewhat rare combination as many approach shoes are too bulky to actually run in. I’ve been running in these shoes almost exclusively for the last few months, and they handle their own on the trails, performing best when the trail gets steep and loose.

    A couple other interesting features are the Heel Lock, designed to fix the heel in the heel pocket and prevent heel slip and blisters. There’s also a Pu footbed with moisture and odor management properties.

    All in all, if you’re looking for a shoe that you can use for semi-long approaches, and also use for some casual trail running, this is a solid one.


    Garmont’s Sticky Rock (men’s)

    In the vertical world, quality gear is as important as good weather or the right partner.  At the Climbing Zine, we review gear that we put to the test in our personal climbing pursuits, over months of use. If we like it we’ll tell you, and if we don’t we’ll tell you. That’s our policy…If you have gear for us to consider for a review please contact us at luke@climbingzine.com. 

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

    zine_cover8 (5)About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle

    We have also published three books: American ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • Creek Jane Rhiannon and Amy

    Old School Issue, Volume 8 Now Available – FREE SHIPPING

    Apr 16 • Climbing Culture • 592 Views

    The Climbing Zine Volume 8, “The Old School Issue” is now available on Kindle, and for in print.

    Art and stories from the sharpest writers in the climbing world right now: Georgie Abel, Chris Schulte, Joy Martin, Drew Thayer, Hilary Lempit, Jason Haas, Luke Mehall, Tim Rogers, Brooke Sandahl, Alexa Flower, Rhiannon Williams, Amy Lipschultz, Monika Leopold, Tristan Greszko, and Greg Cairns.

    Plus, we added 16 pages of content, and kept the price at $9.99, with FREE shipping. 

    Here’s some words from the introduction by Luke Mehall:

    Introduction—Last Thoughts on the Dirtbag

    So where do you look for this hope that you’re seeking?

    Where do find that campfire that’s a burnin’

    That will light your life for the rest of its days?

     Last year, my buddy Greg Cairns and I spent a handful of sessions creating a short film, set in my favorite cragging area on the planet: Indian Creek.

    I’d pitched Greg on the idea shortly after meeting him. He’d just graduated from college here in Durango, and I’d sensed his hunger and enthusiasm to make something of himself as a filmmaker in this world. I’d never been part of creating a film before, but I had a vision: write a simple poem that really articulated what climbing and the dirtbag lifestyle meant to me.

    zine_cover8 (5)

    I shaped the structure of the piece very similarly to how Bob Dylan wrote “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie,” his epic stream-of-consciousness poem he penned as a dedication to Mr. Guthrie, who inspired him so much as a singer-songwriter. Dylan takes us all on a ride that could very much be the journey of the American on the road, looking for something. As I wrote, I decided the piece would be my own tribute to Dylan, as well as all the climbers over the years that I’ve shared a rope with.

    Greg really had to push me on this one, and I’ll forever be grateful for his hounding e-mails. Any creative person knows that you can’t just turn up the inspiration whenever—it has to strike you. There also has to be some work involved. A willingness to sit at your desk and write out words that you’ll erase. Shit, climbing is the same way; any true project has to build the foundation upon failure after failure. That’s why it’s so great when we send in the end, right?

    Eventually we had a script, and we started filming. We dialed in the rigging techniques, and immediately I had a profound respect for those big dogs that create films on the big walls and big mountains of the world. Greg shot me and several others on various Indian Creek classics and some new routes we’d been working on out there, and we thought we had a solid draft.

    Then something happened. Greg and I both saw “Denali” by Ben Moon, Ben Knight, and Skip Armstrong—one of the most moving short films of the year about a man and his dying dog. Greg was immediately inspired and became convinced that we had to elevate our film and do some more shooting.

    So we did. We went back to Indian Creek, and during our first day at the 4×4 Wall, we ran into an older gentlemen named Alan Carne. He was alone at the wall and began talking us up. He was clearly super psyched, and as it often is in the world of climbing, we immediately all became friends. Then we saw him climb. He was simply the most efficient and technically proficient crack climber I’d ever seen. Then we found out his age: fifty-five.

    Carne on Superette Crack, Dove Creek Wall, Indian Creek. Photo: Greg Cairns

    Carne on Superette Crack, Dove Creek Wall, Indian Creek. Photo: Greg Cairns

    We camped with Alan that night. Where else but the climbing world do you meet a stranger and then immediately bring him into your close circle of friends? His energy was infectious, almost like that of a young twenty-something, but his energy is coupled with the wisdom of age and time. I told Alan all about the film project, how the words were inspired by Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and even some of the modern-day rappers like Andre 3000. We discussed the dirtbag existence and how it intertwines with the beatnik existence.

    Alan listened carefully and reflected on his early days of dirtbagging. He grew up poor in Manchester, England, and started climbing at fifteen with old twine ropes and hip belays. He told us of sleeping in bathroom shelters and sneaking into taverns at night just to stay warm. He and his compadres lived on the doll (their version of unemployment) at a time when work was scarce in England, truly living hand to mouth, surviving day to day.

    His passion for climbing kept burning throughout those dark years, and today he lives in the South of France near the Verdon Gorge and spends as much time on the road climbing as he does at home in France.

    After we finished filming, I kept in touch with Alan. I later learned he’d flashed the famous Tague Yer Time, a 5.12+ Grade V in the Black Canyon, and after that made his way to Yosemite and spent three weeks working to free the Muir Wall on El Capitan, climbing 5.13 pitches with partners who were less than half his age.

    A couple weeks after his time in Yosemite, I e-mailed Alan and asked if I could write an article about him. He obliged, and we spent a couple hours talking about his past, but more importantly, his present and future. He was so hungry for more free climbing on El Capitan, already contemplating working the 5.13c Pre Muir variation in the coming spring. I picked his brain about the old days, and he eloquently told me, “The good ol’ days weren’t always that good.”

    I’ll let the story speak for itself. This is the old school issue. We never force a theme with the Zine; we set the theme, accept submissions and art, and let the issue shape up naturally. Personally, (to borrow the words from a hook off an old 2 Pac track) I know we wouldn’t be here today if the old school didn’t pave the way.

    So cheers to you old school climbers, especially those like Alan, who are still getting better, still thriving for more out of life and climbing. You created the foundation we stand upon today.


    Luke Mehall

    The Climbing Zine Volume 8, “The Old School Issue” is now available on Kindle, and for pre-order on print.

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

    zine_cover7 (4)

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

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


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    The Vulnerable Man — My experience writing American Climber

    Apr 15 • Locations • 742 Views

    Without climbing I’d be dead or in jail.

    This is not the first piece I’ve ever started off with those words. But in the past I never really elaborated, until this week, when my memoir, American Climber was released.

    by Luke Mehall (banner photo by James Q Martin)

    It has been 17 years since I’ve contemplated suicide. For a long time I hid that—and to be honest, most people who are very close to me never knew that I was so close to wanting to kill myself. Until now when they pick up this book.

    AmericanClimber_Cover (1)

    I started writing shortly after that deep existential depression that lasted for a full year. Mostly I started with poetry, those sort of poems that wrote themselves after meaningful experiences in nature, scraping up rocks and finally feeling some happiness after being in such a dark cloud of depression for so long.

    Only in the last year or so have I started writing the honest truth about those times when I was suicidal. I was scared to write about them. I felt ashamed that I wanted to die when I was so blessed to be living a middle class existence in the richest country in the world. I didn’t feel comfortable writing about my vulnerabilities. I am a man, and men aren’t supposed to cry, right?

    When I started writing this book it didn’t feel like I was writing a book, it was like self-therapy. Like I was finally writing all my pain out, and the only way I was ever going to heal from it was by being completely honest with myself. There are passages about me running away from home, and not telling anyone where I was for a month. There are stories about me smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, alone, and repeatedly punching my dashboard in my car in a furious rage. There are times when I was too depressed to cry, and could only express my anger by breaking things.

    See why I was ashamed?

    The only people I’ve really ever opened up to about my deep depression were women that I’ve dated. It’s always been hard to talk about this stuff with friends and family members. I’ve only ever felt comfortable bearing my true soul to women who have been my lovers. But why?

    Why as men are we taught that we aren’t creatures that are driven by our emotions? We all are, as much as we don’t admit it. Why do we always have to be strong, and can’t admit when we are weak?

    Recently while hiking off a cliff in Indian Creek with a new friend she said something to me that really made me pause and think, “You know I think that being strong and being vulnerable are the same thing”.

    I started to think of all the ways in my life and in climbing where this rings true. As climbers we all know that deep fear that comes before an intimidating route. And in those moments we must recognize that fear and move with it, not against it. That’s why climbing is part art, and not just sport.

    American Climber came out on Monday. I’ve had some moments of panic and fear when handing copies to my best of friends that were about to learn my deepest truths. But something has happened over the course of this week—people have embraced this piece of work more than anything I’ve ever done. People crave truth and honesty more than I ever knew.

    The truth is setting me free. I hope it does for you as well.

    American Climber is now available in print, and on Kindle. 

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

    zine_cover8 (5)About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle

    We have also published three books: American ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • American Climber – Kickstarter is FUNDED

    Mar 31 • Locations • 330 Views

    After a decade of writing, and re-writing, my memoir, American Climber is finally complete. It is a 75,000 word tale about my life experiences with climbing—a sport that saved my life—coupled with reflections on the dirtbag climbing lifestyle.

    AmericanClimber_Cover (1)

    The hard part—the writing—is done, and now the challenge is very simple: get the word out about my book. The best way any reader can help with that is by supporting the Kickstarter campaign. Rewards are affordable, starting at $10. An advance copy of the book is $25.

    The book is also now available in print. 

    Thanks in advance for your support, and I hope you’re living the dream.

    Watch the video on Kickstarter. 


    Can’t wait, get the book now on Kindle. 

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