• Hidden Dragons by Chris Schulte

    Feb 18 • Locations • 1509 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!

    Golden.

    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.

    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. 

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

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

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  • The Old Lady of Tuolumne by Alexa Flower

    Feb 13 • Uncategorized • 257 Views

    I guess you could call it a town. It’s open three or four months per year. Driving east, hues of dark green, azure, and gold flicker along the extended cracks on the windshield. A serpentine road curves through pine forests and atop steep inclines, tracing edges of valleys, the rim of the lake.

    by Alexa Flowerby (spoiler alert this piece is an excerpt from Volume 8, The Old School Issue. Banner photo by Tristan Greszko)

    Mountains kiss the skyline, whether gazing forward or backward. Some are green, some gray, some bare of foliage, and some with ringed snowcaps. Blue-and-gray granite domes dot the scenery—giants frozen in a timeless slumber, unchanged as eons tick by like seconds on a clock. Soon the town center emerges into view. A wooden cabin, the outdoor shop hides behind two gas pumps. Beige canvas cloths drape over aluminum and wood sidings, comprising the grill, grocery store, post office, and the second half of the town’s commercial buildings. The nearest town, with Internet and a semblance of civilization, is thirty minutes farther east.

    Cathedral Peak, Tuolumne Meadows. Photo: Tristan Greszko.

    Across from these buildings lies a perpetual balance of khaki, olive, avocado, and sea. Other meadows have dried up, starved from another dry summer. Frequent dry spells veil the land, and all that’s ephemeral submits to its fate. Somehow this one holds its footing. This one remains wild with florae and clusters of grass. Deer rest in its squelchy earth near the river. At sundown, coyotes stroll in the distance beneath the layered sky.

    Beyond this meadow and all around are other meadows, trees, granite domes, and peaks. The sky is closer here. The air is more delicate.

    I arrived two summers before, fleeing up the high stone walls. I’d come from a monochrome world of concrete and glass, where days passed within a monitor’s droning buzz, the shrill ring of an office phone. My coworkers and I existed in an air-conditioned box, silence only being broken by designer heels prancing the hallways. Always inside looking out. I remembered a friend’s words from years before: People place themselves in boxes. I had succumbed, locked my own chains, and was desperately aware of it.

    In the meadow, the grass tickles my bare legs. I watch each blade resisting all but the wind. I remember shock jolting through every inch of my body when plunging in a river that is a direct extension of the highest peaks. How it feels to fit my hand in a granite crack, the rope flying in the wind below me, a companions encouraging call. So I stayed.

    She’s been here a lot longer than I have.

    “You climbers ruined the snake’s rock,” she says. I stare into her reddened eyes. They bore into me, piercing with a childlike fervor. An instant defensiveness awakens inside as I absorb her accusation. Her lips betray decayed teeth and swollen gums.

    She has been here a lot longer than I, and for years, I watched her stooped frame stagger to and from the meadow in an ungainly determination. Her dark, leathery skin and surrendered eyes reveal a life spent outdoors in direct sun, beneath the waning moon. She shuffles around under a giant camouflage jacket and wool hat, masking her frail form. With one small puff of wind, I imagine her blowing away.

    Each day last summer, she entered the grill asking for coffee. “Please, let me give you a new cup,” I would offer. Her cup was filthy. Each day she would refuse.

    “The snakes don’t come out anymore. They don’t bathe in the sun anymore.”

    “You ruined their rock, you climbers!” She points a broken finger at me. Her knuckle resembles the gnarled limb of an old oak.

    “Where? Where is the snake’s rock?”

    But I have never heard of the place she tells me.

    “You climbers rename all of the domes and mountains! You rename all different parts of the domes and the peaks!”

    An older fellow in gray curly hair gazes back in his glasses, a distant face. He sips his coffee. “I named one mountain,” he says. “Just one, long ago.” I hope to hear his tales, a memoir soon forlorn, but I see her turn and leave.

    As she walks away from me into the meadow, I take a trifling step forward. I want to stop her. I want to tell her No! It’s not me! I love the snakes. I love the snakes and the birds and the domes and the mountains. This place is my home. I belong here. Instead, I let her go. She limps back through the meadow, blending into the tufts of grass and knotted bark on the trees. Her labored steps turn to gentle movement, passing each swaying conifer. I squint and can barely make out her soft outline in the distance. She doesn’t look back.

    We leave to go climbing. I walk on the trail beneath pines; her words burn a fire in my gut. My mind roams with conflictions. The snakes, deer, coyotes, and bears. The creatures dashing from fern to fern. Do I deserve to be here as much as they do? All remains unspoken amidst thousands of visitors passing through to be refilled. How much can one place give before its cup turns up dry?

    We continue through the woods, and her words crumble to dust. They disappear.

    A steep hand crack interrupts golden knobs and gleaming crystals. I jam the crack and stem on the knobs. My body and mind connect. My breath and ribs are an accordion, and my heartbeat is a drum. My mind follows a path of transcendence, a nimble rhythm. Soon the granite slope drops. The summit lies below our feet. The mountains stretch to infinity, silent deities only demanding intimacy from those who seek it.

    We head down in high spirits, good-hearted laughs and tall tales. Clarity engulfs me. This is where I belong.

    At the edge of the forest floor, a snake rests on the slabs thirty feet ahead. Stripes of red, yellow, and black emanate from the granite. He notices me the instant I notice him. I halt and stiffen. My breathing stops. With certainty, he turns and slinks away with equal sharpness as our encounter. I feel the burning in the pit of my stomach.

    Wait! I’m sorry, please come back! I want to say. I take a step forward.

    You can have this dome, and I’ll go to that one. I won’t come here again.

    It is too late. He continues along his way, contrary to mine. I watch through throbbing eyes, my lips parting. He doesn’t falter. He doesn’t look back. I watch him leave, and his striking colors fade with the tawny grass and swaying pines. I turn away to continue on my own. Looking up one last time, squinting, I see a soft contour in the distance—her willowy frame about to blow away—blur and disappear.

     That night I fall asleep as familiar conflictions resurface. Is it not enough to quietly admire and revel in the landscape? Do I belong here too? Somewhere among the pastoral valleys, the crisp alpine lakes, the domes and granite pinnacles, in the sodden earth rooting chartreuse forests and wild flowers, I see a reflection of my own spirit. I dream entire civilizations lined with concrete land and buildings, destroying all nature but an implanted tree behind each white picket fence, are illusions, and the heartbreaking beauty surrounding me is all that is real.

    I don’t see her again that summer.

    Fall disappears with the first snow. Trees, meadows, domes, and peaks are blanketed in white. Snowflakes settle on my tongue, kiss my lashes, each one unique—an elusive spectacle of where they have been, who they are. The same uniqueness in all that exists on Earth, alive or eternally dormant. The town closes. The outdoor shop shuts down and the grill, grocery store, and post office are stripped to their metal framing. For eight months, the lone road closes, and silence flows in. Snow brings healing to this high Eden, like a peak emerging from the mist, the drying of a tear.

    I leave and head east along the serpentine road. Granite domes and conifers blur my periphery, brief and fleeting. Hues of dark green, azure, and gold flicker in the rearview mirror. I continue to look back. Through the sting, I know that, with my absence, the snakes will come out, and the meadows will nourish. All that brought me here remains. And I belong.

    Alexa Flower spends her winters as a ski patroller in Breckenridge, Colorado, and summers in Yosemite, last year working as a Climber Steward for the Park Service. 

    This piece is an excerpt from Volume 8. 

    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

    v9-cover-screen-grab

    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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  • The Crimson Bunny (Going at it alone) by Alexis McLean

    Feb 12 • Locations • 1865 Views

    A roommate and dear friend of mine used to talk both eloquently and incessantly about her Purple Rabbit. She would describe its power, its pleasuring capabilities with the benefits of independence and non-attachment. Often I thought she shared to entertain our friends’ appalled reactions, although over time, I realized her serious appreciation for her rabbit. This was something I admired, but had never taken the extra step to pursue.

    by Alexis McLean spoiler alert this piece is an excerpt from Volume 6, available in print and on Kindle

    Now let’s get something straight. I am a huge fan of masturbation. Both the solo act and the discussion with self-pleasuring comrades and newbies alike is a healthy and enjoyable benefit to being. As for the usage of an abnormally firm, purple, piece of plastic, with rabbit ears, well, it’s never really floated my boat.

    Years later after our house of women, seven to be exact (in a three bedroom house) had gone our separate ways, a small item, brought me back to those brilliant years and the crimson bunny rabbit.

    I acquired this small piece after feeling a rich urge to try something new. At the store it fit perfectly in my hand, light in weight and full of potential. At first I felt difficulty imagining how this little piece of metal could do what I needed, but after reading the manual, I felt completely inspired.

    I walk up to the cliff. Used to chatting away with my partner on the trail, I find myself alone. The warmth of the sun makes my skin soften and my muscles release from my bones. Birds soar through lofts in the sky. Leaves rustle and dance in the summer air. I feel I am floating. Is this what she experienced? This joy and pleasure and independence of being with your own silence, your own strength, your own passion?

    Move after move up the rock face, I touch dimples, cracks and depressions. I felt light, and free, intense pleasure by my own motivation, my passion and myself. I thought about her satisfaction and joy towards her Rabbit, and looking down to where the knot in my rope coiled through my harness, with no one to be found and flying upward on my own line, there it was, my brand new Mini Traxion glistening in the sun.

    And I got it.

    Alexis McLean is an artist and climber living in Denver, Colorado. You can get a glimpse at her brilliant artwork by visiting her website

    This piece is an excerpt from Volume 6. 

    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

    v9-cover-screen-grab

    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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  • Review: Scarpa Vapor Lace

    Feb 12 • Gear • 712 Views

    Scarpa’s Vapor V rock shoe now has an upgraded model. The new Vapor Lace shoe offers a more customizable fit, which provides slightly more comfort and control. This shoe is ideal for vertical to slightly overhanging face climbing and mixed face and crack climbing.

    Reviewed by Drew Thayer 

    Performance: The Vapor Vibram XS Edge Rubber soles provide a nice balance between sticky and strong. The sole flexes enough to provide ample surface area when smearing, yet the slightly pointed toebox with a well-defined edge provides excellent strength in small pockets and on razor-sharp edges. A slightly downturned geometry also provides more power during delicate footwork on small holds. The rubber extends over the big toe knuckle, allowing for more security and comfort while jamming or toe hooking. This toe pad only partially covers the top of the toes, however, and direct contact through the leather can be uncomfortable in some cracks, and eventually wears through.

    Fit: Don’t let the slightly downturned sole and pointy toebox fool you, these shoes are extremely comfortable. The microsuede construction and Scarpa’s rand design result in a shoe that has pinpoint precision without any toe pain. I don’t have to size these masochistically small to get a shoe that is comfy on 5.9 slab and can still step hard into 5.12 edges.

    The laces may make it slower to slip them on and off between pitches, but these shoes can be sized comfortably and still perform at a high level. The laces do a better job than Velcro at conforming the shoe to various foot shapes. The heel box molds like Cinderella’s slipper around my foot, compared to the Vapor V which always felt slightly baggy in my heel no matter how much I cranked down the Velcro. These shoes do not stretch much.

    Bottom line: This shoe comes close to being a jack-of-all trades; it performs at a high level on a variety of rock types and angles. It’s a favorite for climbing in places like Eldorado Canyon, where I have to be able to jam cracks, smear on subtle slopers, and stand on tiny edges. Some people like a slightly aggressive, downturned shoe for climbing hard cracks; I’d recommend armoring the outer toes with a little shoe goo for this purpose.

    Scarpa Vapor Lace  on backcountry.com

    Scarpa Vapor V (women’s) on backcountry.com 

    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, or $34.99 for two years, 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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  • DU/ER Jeans – Performance Denim

    Feb 11 • Gear • 64 Views

    The trend of “stretchy jeans” for men in climbing seems to be gaining traction ever since Outdoor Research introduced the Goldrush jeans a couple years ago. After testing out the Goldrush’s I was definitely sold on the concept of wearing jeans that have a blend of cotton and synthetic fibers — for comfort and for the stretch factor while climbing. After becoming sold on the Goldrush’s, I also got my hands on a pair of DU/ER’s Performance Denim, Relaxed Fit, After Dark to contrast and compare.

    Retail: $129

    DU/ER’s use polyester and lycra, blended with cotton, which results in a comfortable fit, and plenty of stretch for stemming while climbing. The Relaxed Fit pair I tried out definitely feels thin, and thus would probably be better for sport/gym/bouldering than burly trad climbing in chimneys and such. Places like Indian Creek would likely eat these stylish jeans up in no time.

    Thus, I have to say these jeans are best suited for the urban environment, from a climbing gym to bar type situation. They are comfy though, and this pair is certainly not for the skinny jeans/hipster crowd. In DU/ER’s words, the Performance Denim in After Dark “feels spacious in the thigh and calves while still tapering slighting at the ankle for a clean and contemporary look.” In climber speak, and after wearing these for a couple months, this means you’re going to be comfortable, but the jeans taper enough that you can see your climbing shoes when pasting onto tiny footholds.

    Overall, I liked these jeans a lot. They live up to the hype of “performance jeans” while still keeping a stylish look, and comfortable fit. Another solid option for the fellas when seeking out for lack of a better word, “stretchy jeans”.

    -LM

    Dish and DU/ER 

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

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

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

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  • A Narrow Escape on Mt. Kenya by Jason Haas

    Feb 9 • Dirtbagging • 789 Views

    “Hey, wake up. Wake up!” Brian whispered harshly. “There’s someone out there.”

    I half opened an eye and begrudgingly listened to the deafening silence. “I don’t hear anything man, I’m sure it’s nothing.”

    “SHHHHH!!!!” Brian’s face was pressed against the mesh fabric of the tent, as he peered out into the darkness. I thought of making a smart-ass comment, then thought better of it. I closed my eyes and started to roll over as the cacophony of falling pots and pans bolted me out of my sleeping bag. “I told you!”

    by Jason Haas

    Spoiler altert: This piece is an excerpt from Volume 7. Get your own here. 

    “Get the zipper!” I barked back. Clad in nothing more than shorts, we tore out of the tent and into the moonlight. Our packs were gone.

    Brian Young and I were graduating college from the flatlands of Michigan and in dire need of an adventure. We had been sport climbing for about two years and just started to learn how to trad climb. While pitching ideas to each other, Brian suggested clipping bolts on the shores of Thailand.

    I countered with a fading ice runnel up Mt. Kenya in Africa. I don’t remember how we decided, but somehow I won. Brian had never been out of the country before and was nervous about going to a third-world country. I did my best to calm his fears, but my carefree “The Dude abides” attitude was no match for Murphy’s Law. The airlines lost our bags, forcing us to roam the streets of Nairobi for several days before boarding the bus to the mountain.

    Being days behind schedule, even as the sweltering equatorial heat broiled the flesh on all eighteen of the oily, unbathed, musty people crammed into the passenger van jostling down dusty, pothole-riddled roads, our excitement remained high. But just as the heat and smell from our human jambalaya became too much, the van would pull over to the side of the road, the stifling air would stagnate from a lack of motion, and another person would literally shove their way into the van. This went on for hours until finally, like an overstuffed burrito, we split at the seams and oozed out of the van. Like leaving a greasy spoon diner, the stench stayed with us long after we’d been dropped off at the park gate to the mountain.

    We filed the necessary paperwork, paid our fees, shouldered our packs, and looked to the north – the mountain was socked in with bad weather and ominous clouds threatened to rain down in a torrential furry. It wasn’t the kind of rain where you get soaked and are annoyed at how wet your stuff gets. It was the kind of rain where the evaporating oasis mud pools flood into great lakes and rivers and villages are swept away. We had ten miles to hike through the jungle before reaching camp. Our enthusiasm drained and without words, we disappeared into the jungle. As the miles slowly ticked by, the clouds darkened and a clap of thunder nearly knocked us off our feet. Dead serious, I turned to Brian and said, “If it starts raining, we’re making camp right here.”

    “Hell no we are not! Things live in the jungle, man. I mean big things. Look at that!”

    Brian pointed to massive elephant tracks running perpendicular to the trail, emerging from, and then disappearing back into the jungle, branches and bushes snapped all around and footprints large enough to sit inside. The thunder clapped again and we both shook. We looked to the sky, then to the ground, and then simply plodded on. As lightning whipped across the sky, bright enough to momentarily blind you and thunder cracked around us, loud enough to briefly deafen you, miraculously, rain never fell.

    After a few hours of tense hiking, we emerged from the jungle onto a sprawling savannah and the most curious site – a porter hut. We chatted with a few locals who were hanging around, looking for work after a guided trip had fallen through. They recommended a beautiful flat spot near a stream a few hundred yards away to make camp and we graciously set up. The clouds cleared and we got our first glimpse of Mt. Kenya as the sun began to set.

    That night Brian woke me in a panic and as our “burglar alarm” of cooking pots went off, we tore out into the night in search of the offenders. Ignorantly and audaciously, I blindly yelled into the night to the perpetrators, “I’m going to kick your ass!” as I marched up to each of the few existing bushes surrounding the camp.

    Brian dug our headlamps out of the tent and tossed me one as I approached the last bush. As the shrub shook and emitted a faint rustling noise, I clenched my fist and pulled my arm back, anticipating the ensuing brawl that was about to take place. “All right, now you’re gonna…” I froze as he swaggered out from his hiding place.

    For a brief but eternal moment, we stared each other down.

    “Hey, hey Br, hey Brian!” I harshly whispered, half cocking my head over my shoulder. “I found it!”

    Brian came running toward me and then froze when my words began to sink in.

    “What do you mean it?”

    The well-lit eyes four feet off the ground turned and disappeared as Brian’s sentence trailed off into nothing. The beast sauntered away while we stood there stunned. And then, 20 yards out, the eyes reappeared. And then another pair. And another. And another. A row of yellow eyes looked at us, single file, shoulder to shoulder. Without thinking I picked up a rock and threw it at the eyes.

    “What the fuck are you doing!?” Brian growled.

    I didn’t know, but I threw another. And another. I threw every rock that was around me as the glowing eyes simply looked back at us, unflinching. Again, time seemed to stop. I could hear each passing heartbeat with a slow, rhythmic thump, thump, thump.

    “What should we do?” Brian asked.

    As if answering his question for me, the illuminated eyes started to go out. One pair at a time. One from the left end, then the right end, then the left end again, until a single set was looking at us. And then it too went out. Were we being circled and hunted? Just one of those things was larger than a Great Dane and there must have been a dozen sets of eyes. We worked our way back to the tent, arms up in karate possession and legs stealthily creeping like a wide-stanced ninja. Brian had found our bags, and for the moment, more importantly, our ice axes.

    We hesitantly crawled back inside the tent, armed to the teeth with ice gear, waiting for the battle. However, nothing happened and the only sound you could hear was our nervous breaths. I looked at Brian, tense as could be and white as a ghost, and realized there was nothing else to do but go to sleep. And that’s what I did. After an exhausting day, I slept like a rock, dead to the world, until the heat of the morning sun woke me to the sight of Brian, still gripping the ice axe and peering out of the mesh fabric. He looked like a shell-shocked marine, still alive after watching a friend die in a gory, all-night battle. I placed a hand on the axe and lowered his arms, then worked my way out of the tent.

    The carnage from last night’s attack was all too prevalent. Our trash was still strewn about and our backpacks had puncture wounds outlining the beast’s jaws. My Gore-Tex pants and jacket were ripped up, and most crucially, my CamelBak bladder had been punctured leaving me without a water container. A porter strolled over and asked what happened. “We were attacked by leopards!” I exclaimed.

    “No, no leopards here. Elevation too high.”

    “Lions then, I don’t know. It was this high.” I held my arm to my upper ribs as a measure and went on describing the yellow eyes, the massive, dagger-like teeth and the mangy fur.

    He nodded, “Hyenas.”

    “No way, these things were way bigger.” I had seen the Lion King and hyenas weren’t that big.

    “Hyenas. They attack people sometimes. Two of them can take down a lion. They’re bad. Stay away.”

    “Hyenas, huh?”

    “Hyenas. You should move on. They’ll probably come back.”

    I went back to the tent and looked at Brian, lying in a pool of sweat and in no shape to hike. I told him what the porter had said and we decided, against our better judgment, to push on.

    There weren’t any clouds like the day before to block the equatorial sun from beating our spirits down, and breaking our bodies under our overly stuffed packs. We went up and over ridges, down into valleys, and back up again. We’d gain a thousand feet, lose eight hundred, and climb again.

    Mile after mile, we slowly and methodically gained and lost elevation, creeping our way toward our objective until it became too much for Brian. He collapsed under his pack, exhausted from lack of sleep the night before, the sweltering heat, and from being at high altitude for the first time in his life. We rested on our packs until it became clear we were in trouble. Brian’s state was quickly deteriorating and we couldn’t stop in the middle of the hill. Without anymore water, we weighed our options – go back the way we came, up and down ridges and valleys to get back to the previous day’s camp and the hyenas, or push on in hopes of things getting better. I climbed the next ridge and saw we’d drop about a thousand feet down to a stream and decided that was our best bet. I helped Brian to his feet, shouldered our two packs, and we inched our way up the ridge and down the other side. Several hours later, as the light began to fade, we made camp alongside a creek and Brian collapsed in the tent.

    By morning color had returned to Brian’s face and his altitude sickness subsided. Still, he needed to rest, and so as he slept, I hiked up the valley to scout our path. I returned late that afternoon to a revived and jovial climbing partner. We laughed about the start of our trip and how the climbing part would be so easy after this and made plans to keep hiking the following morning. As we went to sleep that night, life had returned to our adventure and nothing could take that away. Or so we thought.

    Clang! Clang! Clang! Cooking pots were banging together, jolting us awake again. We rocketed out of our tent, donning headlamps and gripping axes. It didn’t matter. The hyenas had tracked us up into the rocky moraine and had made a more organized attack. The packs were gone and no animals could be found despite the lack of boulders and bushes to hide behind. We frantically searched for our stuff. Minutes passed and things began to look desperate. Finally, Brian found his pack, ripped and torn, but still (semi)intact. I also found my pack – but it had not been abandoned. Naïve confidence and anger swelled up inside. The hyena, clear as day and only a body length away from me easily outweighed me by a hundred pounds. I let out a primal war cry, “Agggggghhhhhh!!!!!” and swung my ice axes like nun chucks.

    As if amused rather than afraid, the beast conceded and left me to my pack. Pumping with adrenaline I didn’t know what to do – pursue it and end this game of cat and mouse, or be grateful for my pack and slink back to the tent. I chose the latter and we licked our wounds in the false security of the tent. Enough was enough; we were getting the hell away from these things. We packed our stuff, and as the sun began to rise we set off down the trail, exhausted but determined.

    We marched in anger and silence as clouds swirled around. The landscape became more barren and ominous as we passed an old plane wreck. But as the mountain began to take on the feel of Mt. Doom, it simply brightened our spirits and we joked about how worse things could possibly happen. We wondered if we could check a hyena skull on the plane, confident it would be ok once we showed the airlines our battle scars. Two more days of non-eventful hiking got us to the base of the retreating glacier and the start of the real climbing. We made plans for the following day, repacked our gear, and settled in for yet another restless night of sleep.

    The alarm went off at 3:00 a.m. and we started hiking out across the glacier. It turned out the ice couloir we had come to climb had melted out a decade or so before we arrived and we were forced to pick a new line.

    We followed the line of least resistance, climbing what felt natural, as we weren’t on an established route as far as we could tell. An hour after sunrise, a heavy, dense cloud settled on the mountain and visibility reduced from miles to yards, to feet, and finally to the end of your arm.

    Experience would have turned us around hours ago, but we had the pleasure of having none. So instead, we pushed on, going higher and higher and getting more and more committed to the unknown. At some point it began to snow and still, we pushed on. Retreat was an option, but it hadn’t really occurred to us. Even though, by then I had been climbing in a down jacket under my Gore-Tex coat (which was ripped up thanks to the hyenas). When the teeth chattering became too much and the hypothermia was setting in, we decided to head down, unable to tell how far from the actual summit we were.

    Again lacking experience, as well as even what most would consider a “light” alpine rack, retreat became instantly complicated. We had learned how to tie two ropes together via double fisherman knots from a book the day before we left the States, but we hadn’t practiced on two different sized ropes. We fumbled with the knots as our fingers became wooden blocks and semi-useless from the cold. Annoyed, Brian decided to lower me down to see if we could reach what we thought was webbing on a ledge with a single rope. He lowered me down, going well past the halfway mark of a single rope, necessitating the use of the other one. I stood on a ledge, not much bigger than my feet, unanchored to the non-existent webbing, waiting for Brian to rappel down to me.

    We stood still. Time did not.

    The mountain turned to a waterfall, and water sprayed off the rocks, finding its way into every torn hole in my clothes. I lost feeling in my legs from being unable to move and visibility was still nonexistent. Finally, Brian dropped through the veil and joined me on the ledge. We tied some slings around a nearby block and re-threaded the rope. As Brian loaded his belay device, I stared at the knot, unconfident it was tied correctly. I started to ask Brian about it, who quickly barked, “It’s fine! It held me once didn’t it?”

    Still, I stared at the knot as Brian quickly disappeared back into the clouds. And then, like a scene out of Cliffhanger or Vertical Limit, I watched the knots start to slip in terrifying, jerky motions.

    “Get off the rope! Get off the rope RIGHT NOW!” I screamed into the void.

    Answering my plea, the rope went slack at the exact moment the knot came fully undone.

    I grabbed each rope just as they fell away from the anchor. I tied a knot as fast as I could as Brian started to yell unintelligibly up to me. And just like that and without warning, the ropes went taught again. Minutes past until they went slack a second time and I headed down. I met Brian again on a ledge, where a nasty argument ensued. Brian had been near a dihedral and had stemmed between the walls as the ropes cut loose, but was growing tired and re-weighted the ropes just as I reset the anchor. Tension was high and mistakes were happening faster than we were descending. We left more gear and rapped again, this time over a big roof crack. We arrived on a huge ledge, but as we tried to pull the ropes, the knot got wedged in the roof crack. Holding only one end of the two strands and not knowing what to do or how to retrieve the ropes, I opted to solo as high as I dared back up the wall and cut the line, leaving us with about sixty feet of rope and more than a thousand feet of mountain to descend.

    The clouds continued to swirl and blocks careened down all around us. The mountain had warned us from the beginning we were not welcomed here and it was only now we were realizing it. We began to solo down the mountain, carefully creeping our way down ledges and crack systems for hours. A gully came into view off to the right, but as we debated trying to make our way over to it, a bus-sized boulder rattled down the couloir, cleaving the snow off on each successive bounce. The mountain shook and we searched for other options. Occasionally we passed old, torn and faded webbing anchors and chopped out what we could, taking the pieces with us. At some point I passed an ancient fixed pin and removed it with my fingers and stashed it in my pack.

    We continued in this fashion for nearly 700 feet, never seeing more than a few feet in front of us and completely uncertain of where we were downclimbing to until we reached a dead end. Standing on a twin mattress sized ledge over a body-sized roof, we sat and studied the air below us. The cloud would swirl and sometimes, if only for a moment, we could see a little bit farther down below. We thought we could make out the glacier. Or was that just the cloud still? No it’s whiter than the cloud, I think it’s the glacier. Is that a ledge below us?

    I never thought I’d die of hypothermia at the equator while wearing a down jacket. Night was going to be here soon; we needed to move.

    Brian and I built an anchor with our last remaining gear and then, as if breaking out of a prison with bed sheets, began to tie the pieces of webbing together in one long daisy-chained line. We drew straws for who had to go first: Brian was up. Silently, he headed down into the white fog, lowering himself hand over hand down the knotted line as pieces of nylon stretched and ripped. Eyes glued to the anchor, I solemnly stated, “Go faster Brian, go faster.”

    The “rope” began to sway a bit as I could hear (but not see) Brian start to swear. “Oh God, please work! Oh G….O….O…O…D…..D…D…!” Thump! Then silence!

    “Brian! Brian!!!” I shouted into the nothingness as the rope hung limp and unweighted.

    Finally a voice answered, “Come on down!”

    What!? Come on down? What the hell was that all about!? But what choice did I have? I headed down, arms clenching each knot to keep from slipping, legs squeezing the rope like a fireman’s pole. The webbing creaked and eeked, stretched, and frayed. Time to move Jason, time to move. I slid down the line until Brian emerged as a dark figure on a hazy ledge, fifteen feet below the end of the rope.

    “Just let go, I’ll get you.” He reassured me.

    “Are you serious right now!?” I yelled back.

    If I dropped straight down I might hit the edge of the ledge, but if I go out just a little I’d certainly overshoot it. I started trying to swing back into the wall and drop as close to it as possible. The rope creaked and popped as it continued toward its inevitable failure. My wooden hands gave out as I aimed my trajectory toward the back of the ledge. Brian slammed me into the wall and I gasped for air. I was safe, for the moment.

    After calming my nerves we began to assess the situation – we were still nearly 300 feet above the glacier and now without a rope. The clouds sill hindered our vision, but had let up enough to occasionally make out a line of weakness. We began to downclimb again as water and snow and ice and boulders continued to fall around us. In the fading light, we reached the glacier. Much of the descent had been done in tense, awkward silence as we focused on survival, but now, back on solid ground, emotions and words came flooding back.

    I erupted in anger and shoved Brian. “What the fuck? You almost died up there man!”

    Brian was scarily calm. “You done?”

    “What are you talking about, done? What was I going to tell your mom, man? And that’s only if I would have lived since you would have taken both the ropes with you!”

    “Let it all out because we are never going to talk about this again.”

    “Serious? What’s wrong with you?” The rant went on but Brian was already tuning me out as he plodded back across the snow toward the tent.

    I was still fuming and yelling when Brian cut me off. “Look – the mountain has cleared.”

    I spun around to see a picture-perfect view on the mountain, cast in the beautiful light of the setting sun. I tore through the pack looking for the camera. As I stood back up, taking the lens cap off, the mountain socked back in with clouds as if sneering and denying us our one last request. Totally defeated, I slumped into camp.

    The hardening of my alpine soul continued for days on end as we hiked away from the mountain, torrential rains literally beating us into the ground as we fell, more than hiked, down the “vertical bogs”. The grassland turned to rivers of mud and every slope was a never-ending and unwanted waterslide.

    I lost a shoe at one point and didn’t even notice until Brian gave it back to me. When we finally reached the park gate a few days later, we discovered our paperwork had been altered, making it look like we had not paid upon entering. Out of money and far from town, we had to barter with the thieves in order to leave. From there, we traded the remaining climbing gear we had for a fifteen mile car ride back to town to catch a bus back to Nairobi.

    An experience like this leaves a lasting impression, but there’s only one of two ways it could really go. One is to solidify why you climb and only strengthen you adventurous spirit. The other, to realize you nearly died, thus leaving you wanting nothing more to do with climbing like that again. I chose the former while Brian chose the latter. We were each other’s main climbing partner, an activity we did seven days a week, and a lifestyle we embraced fully by being unemployed, full time dirtbags.

    In the months and years that followed, my hunger for climbing and adventures only grew, while Brian climbed less and less, and never alpine or really even trad climbed again.

    Today, more than a decade later, the experience (and some of the clothing) stays with me. My wife even still likes the story.

    While sitting on a ski lift chair with strangers, my wife often enjoys pointing to my faded and patched Gore-Tex pants and jacket and asks, “How’d you get those holes?”

    Just as we exit the chairlift, I smile and say, “Hyenas attacked me.”

    She turns to the stranger and smirks, “True story.”

    As we part ways on the slope they always yell the same thing, “Wait, what? Are you serious?”

    Jason Haas still has the fixed pin from that fateful trip to Africa and was the inspiration behind the name to his publishing company, Fixed Pin Publishing, which he runs from his house. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two kids. 

    This piece is an excerpt from Volume 7. 

    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

    v9-cover-screen-grab

    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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  • Holding the Rock Together

    Feb 9 • Locations • 1751 Views

    I won’t say that I’m afraid of heights, but to be standing on the edge of anything looking down more than 50 feet or so gives me a funny feeling in the abdomen from just below the sternum all the way down to where the feeling translates into a moderate concern about bladder control. It’s not necessarily a bad feeling – in fact, if you aren’t getting much good sex, it’s a fair substitute. But it is neurally more directly connected to fear and fear’s neighbor pain, than to pain’s neighbor pleasure, and I don’t seek it out deliberately.

    [story by George Sibley]

    Which left me feeling a little apprehensive, the morning I got in the wrong line in Army, and found myself climbing on a school bus with a bag of rope and mountain-climbing gear some corporal had thrust into my hands. One of the best things that ever happened to me.

    I was, at that point, one of the worst things a human can be: a totally green Army Reserve Second Lieutenant just coming on active duty for my mandatory two years, fresh out of college and ROTC – a Reserve Officer Training Corpse. I’d been advised that that was the only intelligent way to get through the “military obligation” we had back then in the Dark Ages – go in as officer, all the people who knew nothing about it said; you’re too smart to have to go in as an enlisted man. I soon learned that the only intelligent jobs in the Army are the ones reserved for the enlisted soldiers – motor pool, clerk-typist, etc. I might have made it through the whole two years if I’d been enlisted and able to get into a motor pool – and I’d have been much better prepared for the kind of vehicles I’ve owned most of my life.

    But meanwhile, back on topic – there I was, my first Monday morning on active duty, a ROTC second lieutenant for whom no one, especially enlisted men, had anything but contempt, told to go to the “NCO Academy” for a class. So I went to the designated building, told someone I was there for a class, and he told me to go see so-and-so, get my gear and get on the bus. What I found out later was that there were two classes starting that morning. One was for green second lieutenants to get them “orientated” in things like mess hall management, paper shuffling, marijuana detection, et cetera, and the other was a “mountaineering” class for young cannon fodder since we were defending America in mountainous terrain halfway around the world at that time.

    So I got advised into the wrong line, and found myself in a bus heading for some undisclosed location with a bag full of stuff that clanked ominously and had a rope end hanging out like a cobra tail. I thought of everything I’d been told about Army endurance courses, rigorous physical training, et cetera, and figured I was probably about to die. Te morituri salutamus.

    But what actually happened – we climbed off the bus in a small parking area in one of the most beautiful places I’d ever been in my life, North Cheyenne Canyon, just west of Colorado Springs and Fort Carson, where I (a Pennsylvania boy) had requested assignment. And waiting for us there was a gray-haired old man in Army fatigues who didn’t look in the least like the kind of a macho sonofabitch I’d been led to expect.

    What followed was two truly magical weeks. The old man was a mountain guide named Pop Sorensen from up the Fraser River valley, and he loved the mountains and wanted us to love them too. If you were there to conquer mountains – the general attitude of the captain and young NCOs (non-commissioned officers, the spine of the military) in charge of the “school” – “Specialist” Sorensen wouldn’t get in your way, but basically he loved the mountains enough so he didn’t want to leave us with any fear to conquer too.

    We started with real basics that real mountaineers probably don’t even think about – how to walk uphill and walk downhill, how to look for the easiest way up or down rather than the hardest, a lot of things I still use a lot, never having been much about trying to conquer anything. When despite my best efforts, I still find myself, as it were, between a rock (here) and a hard place (down there), I still go back to things like crabwalking, or just sitting down and thinking about it, that I learned from Specialist Sorensen.

    But we also got into the basics of technical climbing – working with our ropes, pounding pitons, belaying each other, and leaning onto a rope and performing the death-defying act of backing off a cliff into the absolutely exultant float of a rappel. A wonderful time. After the first week, I ended up going back up the canyon on Saturday with some of the great camping equipment the Army provided and camping out. I’d wanted to come to Ft. Carson to be close to the mountains, and how much closer could you get than when you’re looking for a handhold in sandstone a foot from your nose?

    But that “best of times” experience had its “worst of times” moments too. One day, we were climbing up some face or another in the canyon, and got myself in one of those situations where you’ve got your feet in two places, one hand in another, and you reach for another handhold, and then realize that you are spreadeagled on the rock, unable to move anything anywhere. Hmmm. “When you get in a tough spot, stop and think about it for a minute,” Specialist Sorensen always said. So I did. I stopped and thought for so long that my belaying partner (fortunately above rather than below) called to ask if I was okay.

    Not really, I think I said. But the captain – standing safely below (in the “behind lines” command position favored by officers today) – didn’t want it to be a meditation class.

    “What are you doing, Lt. Sibley,” he hollered up, “trying to hold that rock together?”

    I don’t honestly remember what I did that day – probably just told my belay partner to take up the slack and brace himself, then let go of the rock and grabbed the rope, and tried another way up.

    And after that second week, I went back to Ft. Carson and the mickey-mouse bullshit that the warrior class thinks up to keep the troops busy and amused when not at war (although other divisions were of course at war those days). But two weeks up the canyon with Pop Sorensen had pretty much spoiled me for all that. My stomach for American imperialism, which had been deteriorating all the way through four increasingly enlightening years of the higher education, pretty much bottomed out, and after a fairly stupid act of impotent rebellion, the Army and I parted ways, and I went to the mountains permanently.

    But, for whatever reason or no reason, I never did any serious heavy-duty mountaineering after that, despite what was probably a pretty good basic preparation for it. Probably just didn’t hang out with the right group of hippies. But I have spent a lot of time in and on the walk-up variety of hills and mountains, and cannot at this point imagine not being close enough to see them on a clear day.

    I also take a lot my lessons for living from the mountains – Mount Analogue is the mountain everyone who lives in the mountains eventually comes to. And one of the most difficult lessons to learn, for me anyway, is how to avoid getting spreadeagled in one’s own life – stretched out among choices badly made or not made (“all of the above” being what one wants but can’t have)….

    “What are you doing, Lieutenant Sibley – trying to hold the world together?”

    Sometimes you have to just stop and think. And hope you’ve got a good partner on belay.

    This piece is an excerpt from The Climbing Zine, Volume 1 available on Kindle for .99. 

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  • Jugs on Jugs by Gaelen Engler

    Feb 8 • Locations • 34021 Views

    Pulling into The Chief campground in Squamish for my first time, I had to double-check the sign to make sure my boyfriend and I hadn’t driven into the training ground for a traveling circus. Uncoordinated, poutin-hungry tourists from China and Montreal were being given slackline lessons through the middle of camp. It was not uncommon to see a unicycle zoom through, and there were enough dogs running around that one had to assume their ringleader was close by.

    by Gaelen Engler (spoiler alert this piece is an excerpt from Volume 5, which is now out of print.) It is available on Kindle. 

    The Chief campground quickly became known as gypsy camp, and it wasn’t long until the two of us were cooking up tofu and brussel sprout dishes with the best of ‘em. Looking around each day, though, I wondered why the numerous, crowded picnic tables were void of females, young or old. And despite gypsy camp feeling like home after two weeks, there wasn’t a day that went by when the shirtless, chalk-smeared guys just didn’t quite do it for me.

    While I only have four years of climbing experience under my belt, I am familiar enough with the addiction to have noticed the drastic lack of women that cover the pages of magazines or the walls of popular climbing areas. Over the years, I have become almost obsessed with befriending girls whose passion is to climb. As pathetic as some may find this, and despite all the blind dates with other women I’ve been on, my number of female partners is still dismal.

    Throughout the past two years, I have spent over thirteen months living out of a Subaru and climbing every somewhat dry day that came my way. Needless to say, much of my recent life has been spent on perfecting the art of a dirtbag existence. Dumpsters were certainly not off-limits, and sacrificing staples like beer and cheese in order to extend a climbing trip was common. Until I shook hands with climbing, went on a first date in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and fell head over heels for the sport, I had never experienced anything that I would become so completely absorbed with. Befriending active, adventurous guys has never been a problem for me, and I quickly had a plethora of them to call whenever I had time to climb. Yet, if it’s not obvious by now, this is probably a good place to note the other craving that dominates my life, one that actually overpowers my will to climb even the funnest, most exposed ridges around. Girls. Ladies. Badass adventurous chicas!

    Engler climbing in Railay Wet, Thailand.

    Engler climbing in Railay West, Thailand.

    Now guys, I know that if you haven’t given up on this article by now, those few words may have made up your mind. Hear me out on this one though, for the benefit of all humankind. I cannot even recall all the times I have had a girl tell me, “if only I had more girlfriends.”

    You can just about assume that any girl in the climbing world (as well as skiing and biking) can relate to this. These are by and large male dominated worlds. For example, according to a study done by the US Census Bureau last year, Jackson Hole is comprised of 59% males and 41% females. This was one of the most even ratios they gathered throughout various mountain towns.

    What can you do, you wonder, to get things back on track?  I have never been one to refrain from telling my close male friends how nice it would be to swing leads with a girl.  My level of desperation is common knowledge among them at this point, and it’s nothing I’m ashamed of. But the times I know they have taken it to heart are the instances when they invite me out climbing with a girl they are hoping to date, even though it would take some attention away from themselves. Or, give me the number of a woman they just met who is passionate about the outdoors. I am never more appreciative than when I get a call from a stranger, a female who had my number passed along to her and is interested in getting into climbing. Hell, if a new companionship has to start with me leading the unprotected crux pitch because neither of us wanted to do it, put me on belay. I’m in.

    Now, I realize that I am making vast generalizations and unfair assumptions, and we all know what that does. I am speaking for myself here, as well as for those few women I have been lucky enough to have real conversations with; conversations where we no longer have to pretend to be content with following pitch after pitch, or hearing our guy friends complain about the lack of females in our community. I’m sorry dudes, but I just don’t feel that bad for you. Being in a relationship is one of the most wonderful things we experience in life, but having close friends we can count on for support, advice and wiseass jokes is often even more fulfilling, and many women in mountain-oriented communities lack this foundation.

    After recently moving to a small town in the corner of Northwest Montana, I am currently experiencing this void. While I complained about having roughly only three girls to climb with in Salt Lake, that’s three more than I have met in my new hometown, and once again, my desperation has become a joke with those who I have grown close to.

    I was recently passed along the number of a woman whom I have been told by many guys I should meet. After all, she’s a badass and would make a great partner in a region I am new to. With the temperature warming and the rock drying out, I called, left a message, and never heard back. But, the thing about climbing is that it often blinds you to how your actions may look to the outside world, and a bump in the road is never a signal to turn around. I will keep looking, and my friends will keep teasing me about it, and that’s that.

    As for what we can do as women to create these relationships of trust and empowerment, the answer is surprisingly simple: be open. Don’t assume that my frequent sideways glances at your ripped abs are a threat, an invitation to compete for the strongest guy in the campground. Be open to the fact that, while undoubtedly envious, in my head I am wondering how best to approach you to see if you’d like to climb the next day. Imagining just how much I could learn from such an experienced woman, without any tough guy, “just punch it!” beta being spewed at me.

    I borrow this example from the Chief campground in Squamish, where my intimidation was justified after being shut down by yet another potential female climbing partner. Is it pathetic that I get more nervous approaching women than I do the strongest, dreamiest guys living out of their lifted pick-ups and pimped-out Euro Vans? Don’t answer that. Being rejected by a sweet-looking girl stressed me out more than my eight-month stretch of unemployment did. Needless to say, the following day I was back to taking advice on how to pull the crux from my 6’4″ boyfriend, supportive as he is.

    gaelen.yoga

    The author gets her yoga on.

    Writing this, I can’t help but recall the one and only all-girls climbing trip I took at the end of the summer. I reached out to all of my most dependable female climbing partners, and the three of us met at Lovers Leap, outside of Lake Tahoe. Excited about the patina climbing and armed with an arsenal of “dyke” jokes, we committed to squeeze as much climbing into the long, brutally hot days as we could. Now, my gripe about the lack of female energy in my climbing world is something these girls are very familiar with. So, after having a meltdown twenty feet off the ground when I was above my bolt and committing to diving into a flaring crack on my left, I shouldn’t have been surprised when they wouldn’t let me down.

    I pleaded, they said no. I demanded, they said no. I threatened to untie, they said no.

    Finally, after realizing that these girls would settle for nothing less than my success on this pitch, I swung my way across those dykes and onto an incredible, bulging patina pillar. Seconds after placing a number 2, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to have these girls encouraging me to scare the hell out of myself. Although hanging under a roof the next day, once again paralyzed by even the smallest runout, we somehow had to repeat the process all over, and once again I pulled a move I never thought I was capable of.

    Had I been climbing with my boyfriend, I would have been lowered the minute he realized that tears were on the way. And, after climbing the pitch on toprope, I would spend yet another ten minutes on a belay ledge kicking myself for backing down.

    (L-R) Maryann Burke, Engler, and Katy Kelly in Lover's Leap.

    (L-R) Maryann Burke, Engler, and Katy Kelly in Lover’s Leap.

    Some might call my call-to-arms a feminist climbing manifesto, and rightfully so. I would be happy to continue, bringing to light all the positive rewards we women could dredge from the depths of the male dominated climbing scene. I would love to share more fulfilling, empowering instances where I did get to share a climb with a female, only to realize how much harder I pushed myself in the presence of a new and exciting energy. However, if I had more stories I wouldn’t be writing this article.

    I am not here to demand change and give concrete examples of why nurturing female-to-female relationships is important, because to many women it may not be. This I realize. I simply hope to open doors to new friendships, giving women who may just “wish they had more girlfriends” an initiative to act on this desire, one that often keeps me up at night. How can one sleep when they realize what a universe of intelligent, strong, motivated and adventurous women could look and feel like, if only they were able to drop their competitive and independent instincts, just for a moment?

    The next time a girlfriend of yours repeats for the one hundredth time how badly she wants a fellow female climbing partner, take out your phone and give her a number. There’s nothing I like more than a good old fashion blind date, when a rope, harness and full rack are involved. Two racks, if you know what I mean.

    And ladies, the next time you see another girl checking you out, do the difficult thing, the hard thing, but the thing that can get easier with practice and continued success, just try and refrain from pickup lines involving nuts, cracks and chalk balls. God knows we’ve heard them all.

    The author climbing in the Buttermilks, Bishop, California.

    The author climbing in the Buttermilks, Bishop, California.

     Gaelen Engler currently lives in Whitefish, Montana, where she continues to seek out women who are passionate about climbing. 

    This piece is an excerpt from Volume 5. 

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

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

     

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