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    A Love Letter To Climbing by Ana Ally

    Jul 22 • Locations • 826 Views

    This year at the International Climbers’ Festival in Lander, Wyoming, we held a “love letter to climbing” contest. Ana Ally was the winner, this is her letter. Enjoy. 

    photo by: Timothy Grybauskas

    Climbing, my love. As I sit here, I struggle to find the right words to describe you. I am about to embark on a philosophical journey of the ages. The masters have all tried to tackle this. Tried to describe an ineffable beauty. But how do I even begin? Where do I start? Should I try to express how you make me feel? How you influence my every dream. My entire existence. When it’s just you and me together, my hands moving along your rock hard exterior, slipping into your pockets, sliding between your two inch cracks. Nothing else in the world matters. Sometimes I wake up from a dream to find myself reaching in front of me, my hand in the air, curling my thumb in against my palm. It only took one hand jam to know I was yours forever. One hand jam to know that I was completely and utterly in love with you. When I find myself in one of your jam cracks and I slide my hands in, I know I’m safe. I know you have me. I know I won’t fall out. Sometimes, I just want to feel my bare hands against your hard rock. I know it’s dangerous, I know I could hurt myself, but there is just something so thrilling, so titilating, about unprotected jamming. Feeling you right there against me as I carefully place my hand inside you. Sometimes it hurts a little, but secretly I think I might love that too. Your every form, whether it be sandstone, granite, or limestone, has its own unique beauty. It’s own inspiring line. Without question, you are my one true love. Forever and always, through the crux, through the choss, and beyond.

    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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  • AdamTrippedOut.FINAL

    The Rest of The Story from Our Open Letter to Climbing Magazine

    Jul 22 • Locations • 1169 Views

    When one seeks out to know the full truth in a situation it seems like there are always twists and turns. But if you really want to arrive at the destination, you’ll get there, seeing something different than what you probably imagined in the beginning.

    by Luke Mehall

    Two days ago I published my “Open Letter to Climbing magazine” critiquing Climbing for what at that time seemed like a blatant copy of one of our columns “The Last Pitch”. I was more than happy to take this issue online, because I’d been hearing about Climbing taking article ideas from potential contributors and claiming them as their own, and also duplicating identical wording for columns from other entities in the industry. I wanted to take a stand for the little guy.

    I thought I was being a champion for a just cause: exposing the truth. And, I still have that conviction. I just think there’s a little more to the story that I owe the reader.

    When I initially spoke with Julie Ellison, editor of Climbing, with my suspicion of their duplication of our column we quickly got into a heated exchange, which ended in no formal resolution.

    Ellison herself was the person who I heard from multiple sources would work with a freelance writer on a story idea, and then suddenly mysteriously stop communication, leaving the writer hanging and clueless as to what was happening, only to find out months later that she had stolen the idea and written the article herself in Climbing. This seemed like enough evidence for me to take my issue with “The Last Pitch” column to the world of social media, for better or worse.

    Of course, the letter made its way through social media, and Reddit. Some people championed the letter, others made fun of it, but interestingly enough, several others had valid critique of my article, and the column itself.

    First off it was brought to my attention that we are not the only “Last Pitch” out there. Dead Point Magazine has been doing a “Last Pitch” column even longer than we have (though it does not resemble ours in any way).

    Dead Point Magazine's last pitch.

    Dead Point Magazine’s last pitch.

    Additionally, another person brought it to the attention that the cover of our magazine highly resembles the format for the cover of the Alpinist. The person questioned that if we were critiquing Climbing for doing something very similar in layout why were we above it ourselves. It was a valid point.

    The most important thing about the “Open Letter” was to force Climbing magazine to stop operating so unethically. However, the greater readership to the “Open Letter” found holes in my argument. I don’t want to hide those, and as a journalist at heart, I am always interested in the truth, even above my own personal errors and faults.

    There’s just one more interesting layer to this story. Despite the fact that I have several reputable sources that Climbing has blatantly taken ideas from contributors and columns from other publications no one would speak on record. People in the climbing industry don’t want to ruffle any feathers because we are such a small community and upsetting one person might have a ripple effect to their personal position in the industry.

    This is something I hope I never fall victim to, and I think this is the best reason why the climbing world needs an independent, free thinking publication like The Climbing Zine. Originally zines were done by skaters and punk rockers, who didn’t give a fuck about the establishment. They wanted to publish things that were full of original, unfiltered thoughts. And, though I’m not a punk rocker, that was the original vision behind this zine, to do something completely new and original and to write freely.

    In the end I am more certain than when I started that Climbing purposely copied our column? No. But, am I more confident that Climbing will think twice about stealing peoples article ideas and claiming them as their own? Yes.

    And, will we continue to be a voice when we see something that isn’t right in the climbing world, and no one else is speaking up because they are afraid to ruffle feathers? Abso-fucking-lutely.

    Sincerely,

    Luke Mehall, Publisher, The Climbing Zine

    Luke Mehall is the 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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  • Last Thoughts On The Dirtbag from Cairns Film on Vimeo.

    Last Thoughts on The Dirtbag, a Short Film

    Jul 21 • Locations • 396 Views

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

    by Luke Mehall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • A side by side comparison of the columns. The Zine is on the left and Climbing magazine is on the right.

    An Open Letter to Climbing Magazine by Luke Mehall

    Jul 20 • Locations • 8671 Views

    When I was a young climber Climbing magazine was the main source for great storytelling. This was the late 1990s, before the internet was big, and the written word provided the portal to adventure that I deeply craved. During those years, a Climbing magazine was never more than an arms reach away in my apartment, the stories provided the stoke for our own epics, and the imagery showed me exactly where I wanted to be when college was out for the summer.

    by Luke Mehall, publisher of The Climbing Zine

    As I grew up and became a writer one of the very first places I wanted to get published in was Climbing. When that dream came true and I saw my own name in the very magazine I obsessed over for so many years I was proud of myself.

    As the years went by I kept writing and soon realized a lot of what I wrote was out of the scope of what most magazines would publish. In short, I developed a style that relied more on prose and poetry than your typical standard magazine writing. So, I decided to start my own publication, The Climbing Zine.

    These days most climbers know about “the zine” but a lot of our history remains unknown by many readers. Our first issue was black and white, and stapled together, inspired by the original skate and punk rock zines. We printed 100 copies and gave most away for free. Eventually we moved into all color format, hired a rockstar designer, and decided that we would create a niche for ourselves alongside the other three prominent American print climbing publications: Climbing, Rock and Ice, and the Alpinist.

    In the meantime I started publishing my own books, which I’ve found just as rewarding as creating issues of the zine. I’ve continued to contribute to “the big three” magazines, and prided myself on maintaining a spirit of collaboration over competition.

    Everyone has their own opinion of which of the four magazines they like the best. Climbing seems to have gravitated towards shorter articles, primarily aimed at the younger, growing audience. That’s fine. Recently, I’ve heard rumors about their integrity going downhill in a major way. In this year alone I’ve heard countless complaints about their practices, ranging from plagiarism to copying formats to stealing article ideas from contributors. Ask around amongst climbing writers and photographers, and I’m sure you will hear the same.

    I wasn’t sure what to believe, and then Climbing, the very same magazine I adored growing up, took something from us.

    Since 2012 we have had a column in the last page of our publication called “The Last Pitch”. It’s a very simple format: an intriguing photo coupled with a short piece of writing. Imagine my surprise when I opened up the most recent issue of Climbing only to find that they had duplicated the idea. Their column was called “Last Pitch” and followed our exact format. The replication of the format is not the most alarming thing, rather it is the duplication of the same title.

    A side by side comparison of the columns. The Zine is on the left and Climbing magazine is on the right.

    A side by side comparison of the columns. The Zine is on the left and Climbing magazine is on the right.

    When I approached Julie Ellison, editor of Climbing, with this issue, she said I was accusing her of plagiarism, despite the fact that I never said that. She also made it seem like I was doing something wrong, so I ended the conversation. All I wanted was an acknowledgment that our column had been copied, and that they would immediately stop doing so.

    Climbing magazine do you really want to become the Melania Trump of the climbing world?

    I am a one man show over here at The Climbing Zine. I am the only full time employee of our publication. You have several people in house on your staff. Clearly you can do better than this. You can publish with integrity. It’s not too late. Issue a formal apology. Get back to your roots. You were once a great publication that produced original content. I will be awaiting your reply.

    Sincerely,

    Luke Mehall, Publisher, The Climbing Zine

    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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  • RinseKit.banner

    Review: Rinsekit

    Jul 20 • Gear • 26 Views

    The RinseKit is one of those outdoor products that at first glance seems a little unnecessary—until you use it. I had one of these sitting on my shelf in the garage for a while before I actually took the time to bring it out on a climbing trip. I used it every single day.

    Retail: $89.99

    The concept of this product is relatively simple: it offers a pressurized waterspout with seven different settings, ranging from “mist” to “jet”. It holds two gallons of water and takes up about as much room as a five-gallon water jug in your vehicle. It is filled up using an attachment to a water spigot or a home sink, and holds water pressure for a full month.

    IMG_0269

    The first thing I realized was this would be a great way to take a shower in the middle of a climbing trip without going into the nearest town. I tried it out in Indian Creek in the middle of a long stretch without a shower. Though it can’t replace the feeling of an actual shower, it did do the trick for cleaning up. I personally liked the “mist” setting the best, conserving water while also having an unfamiliar feeling of refreshment after using it.

    In addition to the closest thing you’ll get to a shower while camping, the RinseKit works well for washing your hands and washing dishes. It’s certainly a luxury, but it makes washing your hands a little simpler, and it seems to save water as well. Same with dishes, especially if you’re lazy like I am and often just wait until the next meal to do the dishes from the previous meal; a little rinse after the meal with this thing goes a long way. Though I haven’t used it for this purpose yet, I’ve talked to friends who use the RinseKit to spray off their bikes on multiple day trips. They have also introduced a new Heater accessory (due out in October) for those wanting a warm shower on a cool day.

    Bottom line: the RinseKit is actually one of those luxurious products that a penny-pinching climber would find worth every dollar. Plus, if you’re on a trip with a significant other it makes the experience cleaner and sexier, and doesn’t that sound refreshing?

    The RinseKit 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, 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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  • Two Tent in his element: The Desert.

    Adventures With Two Tent Timmy

    Jul 1 • Locations • 710 Views

    “If Jesus can’t save you, life starts when the church ends.”

    Empire State of Mind by Jay Z

    Some call him Two Tent Timmy, some Gold Tooth Timmy, while others may know him by his comedic, pseudo, weatherman name T-Drizzle. I call him all these, as well as my best friend.

    Two Tent.

    Two Tent.

    But, before he was the guy who lived up in the hills of Crested Butte, Colorado, in a tent inside a tent, before he knocked his front teeth out in a brutal break dancing accident which left him with a front gold tooth, he was just Tim.

    story by Luke Mehall

    I’ve known Tim since we were kids going to the same Catholic church in the flatlands of Illinois. We were confirmed into the Catholic faith together, both at the pressure of our families. In junior high and the first couple years of high school, we knew of each other, but didn’t really know each other.

    Once, I remember, a fellow churchgoer scolded us for talking during the mass; this was when we had the freedom of transportation at sixteen, and later figured out that we could ditch church and go do the things that kids do when they’re ditching church.

    In one way or another, we both found the Grateful Dead. It seems cliché now, but if we’d never started listening to the bootlegs, and then reading the literature that covered the band and the Deadheads, we never would have made it out on the road, and eventually out west where we both reside.

    We also both decided to tune in, turn on and drop out. Like many a bored teenager, we experimented with most of the chemicals we could get our hands on. Alcohol got us into the most trouble with the law, and the funny thing was the most illegal and powerful of the substances never brought us into contact with police; maybe because we melted into the couch and were lost with Jerry Garcia in a world we desperately wanted to be a part of.

    I’ve never tried to write about LSD, or mushrooms, and don’t really know if I could. Pick up some Timothy Leary for that. They take you somewhere though, and in a safe environment it can be a powerful experience of examination of one’s path in life, and illumination of the third eye. A shame people are sitting in jail right now for being busted with psychedelics.

    We missed the bus though. Jerry died just as we started tuning in, and the Grateful Dead was no more. With things that people want to be a part of, the torch is always passed in some way, and we discovered Phish and decided to follow them around.

    Phish gave us the first taste of the road, and a subculture that was very different from what we grew up with: dreadlocks, marijuana, systems of bartering, art, jewelry, hippie girls in sundresses and people that smiled and talked to strangers. We would follow them around for a week or so at a time, to Deer Creek, Indiana, to Alpine Valley, Wisconsin, all the way down to Tennessee; our hair grew longer and our minds changed about the landscape of America and our culture.

    I was the first to take the journey out west and moved to Gunnison, Colorado, to attend college; a town that could be considered a quintessential representation of small town Western America, a strong community surrounded by a million acres of wild lands. I practically begged Tim to move out there and be my roommate. He was going to school in Decatur, Illinois, and I knew he would love Colorado if he just took the leap. Plus, I needed him too. Moving to a small town in the mountains by yourself is intimidating, and there is a process to it, which involves some loneliness and suffering.

    Tim didn’t seem interested at first, perhaps it was my pathetic attempt of a pitch telling him that Gunnison was the greatest place on earth, but he came out anyways, and we moved into a two bedroom apartment that fall. By now we were both still into the Grateful Dead and Phish, but our interest in psychedelics was fading. Something just as powerful had us by the horns, something much healthier for a young soul in his twenties. It was called rock climbing.

    The interest began in Illinois. We happened to grow up ten minutes from a climbing gym that was once billed as the largest in the world: a series of connected, eighty foot grain silos that were cleaned out and modified into climbing walls. We had a friend that shared interest in the hippie scene, and also mentored us on the proper ways to go about climbing. A small miracle that all of these things aligned in a town called Normal, Illinois.

    A climber can only go so far in the flatlands, before his soul resigns to the fact that he desires cliffs and mountain vistas; once you’ve seen these sights they remain within the heart forever. Luckily, we were out west, and in Gunnison, where the rock climbing cliffs are seemingly infinite.

    I took Tim climbing for the first time in those grain silos, but it wasn’t until we were out west together that we truly experienced climbing. At first I thought I was the teacher, but Tim seemed to have a grasp on the gumption and bravery that is needed for climbing more than I did. I had a better understanding on the technical aspects of it, how to place traditional gear into a crack, and how to build an anchor to dangle in the air on a multipitch route, so we made a good pair.

    I don’t know where Tim got his climbing ability, it seemed to come from inside, an intuitive thing, but whatever it was, he had it and he was hooked on climbing from the minute he touched down in the Rocky Mountains.

    Perhaps it was because he grew up as a wrestler. I’ve known many wrestlers who make good climbers. They are in good physical condition, don’t mind a little suffering, and can sustain their bodies on very little food and water for a day of toil. Plus climbing a crack is a bit of wrestling in itself, hanging on, adjusting one’s body to overcome, to fight the good fight and hang on and be victorious.

    Many climbers spend a year or two in an apprenticeship phase of traditional climbing, and this is the method that is recommended. Climbing is full of more fear than actual danger for the average climber, but, that said, the first two years of climbing can be the most dangerous. There are simple mistakes that one can make in climbing that can end your career right then and there. In climbing, you only get one real big mistake to make. I took more of a conservative approach to learning about climbing, joining the college’s mountain rescue team and learning about anchors, and taking many Recreation courses that taught basic climbing skills. Tim just jumped in head first, but luckily we were a duo and we looked out for each other.

    The very first gear anchor that Tim ever built was in the Black Canyon. The Black is known to every traditional climber in the country and experienced by only a percentage. It has a fearsome reputation of being an intimidating place to climb, with loose rock, run-outs and unruly vegetation in the cracks. One gaze at the walls, from a protective railing, looking straight down the two thousand foot walls, is enough to put a knot in one’s stomach, and some only get that far. But the secret is, that if one can muster enough courage to simply get down in the canyon, several moderate routes await that the average traditional climber can be successful on. And, from there, infinite challenges await.

    So we picked out the moderate of all moderates, Maiden Voyage. It’s a 5.9 that most trad climbers could do in a few hours. And even though it was Tim’s second trad route, and his first building anchors, it was already within his physical abilities. So he cruised up the first slab of the route, built an anchor and belayed me up. I reached his anchor and felt my heart sink into my stomach: there was one tipped out cam and a shady looking hex, enough to make me worry that to weight the anchor the wrong way it would fail, and we’d be falling to our deaths a hundred feet below. I immediately started an anchor building lesson, and plugged more gear into the crack. The rest of the climb went slow, but smooth, and we were soon on to other adventures.

    Tim practiced more on building anchors, and once you have that skill, you’ve got it forever. He wasn’t scared that day when I freaked out about his questionable gear placement, and I realized that he felt perfectly at ease in the vertical world, while I was always on edge. Making plans over beers and ganja was easy, following through and entering the vertical was another thing, the raw experience. Celebrating it all, that was the best, and after scaring yourself silly and coming through the climb intact, well that was always cause for celebration.

    I remember celebrating a successful climb of the Yellow Spur in Eldorado Canyon near Boulder, Colorado, and I also recall how I dreaded that climb beforehand. I dreaded every multipitch climb with Tim. At the time I thought he was so confident and fearless, in reality he was just living in the moment and in tune with his surroundings and abilities. I desperately wanted to be a trad climber, but I didn’t have whatever it was Tim had, but luckily I had Tim.

    We did the Yellow Spur in winter, and Tim was the driving force behind it. The climb went in a typical fashion; Tim would get us started with leading. I would lead a pitch, usually have some sort of meltdown, and then he would lead for the rest of the day. So, that happened, I was out of my comfort zone and scared and wondering if I was indeed meant to spend my days hundreds of feet off the ground, and Tim would set off leading. In these moments, he became a hero, because I could not grasp where he got the bravery to lead so far above the ground. I would look around, the pine trees so far below that they seemed foreign, like looking down to Earth from a plane; I could smell them, an intoxicating smell that made me feel alive. Tim would just keep going as I fed out rope and encouraged him, “Nice work, Timmy, cruising.” Birds circled, what lucky individuals were we that we could spend time where only the birds did. The rock at Eldo was almost psychedelic in itself, and I remember striking yellow lichen on maroon walls.

    I remember following Tim for a few pitches, and finally we came to a knife ridge, that was probably ridiculously easy, but dropped down on both sides, with hundreds of feet of air beneath. I sent him to go first, and he completed it with ease, no protection, just me feeding the rope out as he leisurely crossed this void. He belayed me over, and then we made a major mistake, like beginners often do, taking the path of most resistance, instead of the least. Instead of making a few rappels down the face to the base of the climb, we hiked and hiked down a snowy gully, in the dark, without headlamps. One of those descents where a fall would have turned us into another story of lost young climbers that made a common mistake and got hurt where so many seem to get hurt, in the famous Eldo canyon. We had some sort of luck on our side, and freezing, but feeling very alive, we arrived back at Tim’s little purple Ford truck, intact.

    We had more winter climbing adventures; we weren’t really alpine climbers, but we would get ideas in our head looking at magazines and guidebooks, and we just couldn’t wait until spring. Memories filled with climbing at our home crag, Taylor Canyon, climbing 5.6 to 5.8 routes with a foot of snow on belay ledges; out there sealing our fate as climbers.

    When that spring rolled around, I was still scared of everything that related to being a couple hundred feet above the ground, but I still kept talking about ideas in the nighttime, and Tim insisted we follow through. I suppose I owe him everything for that; a young man has to be brave in one way or another, or he is destined to live a life that he does not want to, as I believe many Americans do. They have these passions and urges deep inside, that come alive when they are ten beers deep, or watching a thrilling movie, or when they see that woman who sends butterflies to places so deep he never knew they existed. Tim kept that place alive within me, because he didn’t only talk the talk of climbing, he led the climb, and he did it with grace and style.

    Of course, any young climber in Colorado will make his way to the desert, to the red rocks that start in Western Colorado, and seem to go forever through Utah. We were a team of three this time, with our wide eyed companion Jerid, who was also teaching me about being brave and facing fear, and would have been a team of four with Jerid’s best friend, Josh, but he was on house arrest, and he wished us well from his Grand Junction home when we stopped by to say hello on our way out. His eyes reflected a longing to go, but a feeling that he would be in our position some day, as he was only serving a short sentence.

    We drove that spring evening into the night and to the River Road, just outside of Moab, where there are many towers. There was a moon, not a full moon, but enough to see the silhouettes in the night. Around a bend, while we were looking for a place to camp out for the night, appeared a striking tower, almost a beacon, a lighthouse of sorts, “Let’s climb that thing,” one of us said. It was Castleton Tower.

    Castleton Tower.

    Castleton Tower.

    Well, there was a campsite by it, so we camped there, and after searching through Jerid’s newly purchased guidebook we discovered there was a 5.9 chimney climb up the thing. We were experienced enough now to know that 5.9 could be hard, and, for that matter a 5.9 chimney should be hard. I wanted nothing to do with leading, but, of course, Tim was up for the challenge, even though we had only a #4 Camalot as our biggest piece, and none of us had much experience climbing towers.

    I quickly opted to lead the easiest pitches on the route, leaving the more difficult ones for Jerid and Tim. The climb started with a 5.6 chimney, and I nervously scurried up. Castle Valley is perched just east of the La Sal Mountains, and in the spring they are still covered in snow, making for a dramatic backdrop for the red rock towers. Again I felt so out of my element, and wondered how my life suddenly became so intertwined with rock climbing. I finished the pitch and brought the homies up, and Jerid set off on the next pitch, a tricky and wide 5.8 that he wormed his way up with grace, placing our meager selection of cams, and wiggling some hexes in.

    The wide chimney pitch was next, and, of course, we sent Tim up. He wiggled his way in the thing, barely placing any gear, fearlessly. Though we were only a few pitches up, the exposure was dramatic. Jerid’s presence at the belay made me feel more at ease, though I still felt that all I wanted in the world was to get this damn climb over with and be back on the ground.

    The lonely star drive bolt. These things are the size of a small nail and as trustworthy as a politician.

    The lonely star drive bolt. These things are the size of a small nail and as trustworthy as a politician.

    Tim’s execution of the chimney pitch was impressive. He’d never climbed on sandstone before, and had only been rock climbing for less than a year, all on granite. Climbing sandstone is another art form, while granite is mostly solid, sandstone cannot be trusted as much, and begs one to be more delicate. As Tim progressed on the pitch Jerid and I just looked at each other, and we knew on any climb Tim was the secret weapon.

    Standing on top of a tower means that the physical challenges are over. All there is to do then is embrace the landscape, see the lone raven flying through the blue sky. Look one way to snowcapped mountains and the other to more red rock, that desolate environment that is the complete opposite of a city. Take photos, sign the registry, shake hands and finally rig up the rappels.

    This day, while rappelling the north face, Tim went past one of the rap stations, so he had to rig a system to climb back up the ropes. This can be a dangerous situation, and many climbers have been injured or died while rappelling. Tim was still learning the ropes, if you will, and the system that he rigged to climb back up was probably unconventional. He simply climbed up the 5.11 crack that is the first pitch of the North Face route, while feeding the rope through his belay device and tying an occasional back up knot. There is a sinking feeling when your partner is below and you really don’t know what’s going on down there. But as soon as Jerid and I were really worried, Tim appeared with one of those mile long gazes, and we were relieved.

    Walking back down off the tower, it became dark, so we stumbled and stumbled till we were back at camp; out of water and dehydrated, but we had survived another adventure. The stars were the landscape now, and just as the expansive desert quickly makes one realize we are living out our lives in an environment that most don’t, the nighttime sky reminded us that we were living lives of adventure.

    Stopping back in Grand Junction, Josh was jealous, but inspired by our climb. He had that look in his eyes, that fire, that one often sees in a climber in their younger twenties, the knowing nothing else in the horizontal life could match the intoxicating intensity of the vertical world. We told him all the details and he pined for climbing with a desire that made us feel what he was feeling.

    Tim and I were planning our first trip to Yosemite when we got the news from Jerid. He told me to make sure that I was sitting down. Josh had been killed in a motorcycle accident.

    We travelled up to Grand Junction for the funeral. Although Tim had only met Josh that one time he came with as well. I remember Josh’s mother hugging us intensely. We heard stories about Josh, the most memorable being that he had to do some community service at a church and climbed up into crevices of the old church that needed to be cleaned out, and no one else dared to do so. I imagined him spread eagle in a chimney way up, with a nun or someone looking on, giving him instructions of what to do.

     

    How we felt for Jerid. We’d only known Josh briefly. I imagined losing Tim, and I could not fathom it. I remember crying for Josh every time I was alone for a week after.

    I was depressed and would have probably bailed on the Yosemite trip if it weren’t for Tim. He wasn’t having any of that, and just a week after Josh died we set sail for Yosemite in the purple truck. Crossing the desert to The Valley was sublime. I think, in those days, I enjoyed the adventures in the truck just as much as the climbing.

    Everything was new. Many Americans only see the desolate west of Highway 50 in movies. Caffeine and weed kept us burning, and we rolled into Yosemite very early in the morning, haggard and tired, or at least I was.

    I’ve never seen a look of focus and fire in anyone’s eyes before we arrived in Yosemite for the first time. This is an important first for the rock climber, seeing the famous walls that your eyes have only witnessed in photographs and film. El Capitan, you know it when your eyes are upon it. There is no questioning what you’re looking at, it’s The Captain, and I knew at that moment how far I had to go as a climber. In some way, like looking down the guardrail into the Black Canyon, I wanted to go back home and forget about climbing.

    The look in Tim’s eyes. It was piercing. This array of granite walls and towers, amongst the gigantic towering pine trees, reflected through the fire of his soul, and he had arrived exactly where he was supposed to be at that juncture in life, and he was meant to climb these walls. That look was enough for me to know that I would again get through another adventure, if only through Tim’s burning desire.

    I felt the pressure mounting, and Tim insisted we climb something that very day upon arriving. We decided to go for a climb called Braille Book, a 5.8 way up a gully in the Cathedrals. Hiking up the hill after many hours in the car felt brutal, and the granite walls that surrounded us gave me a sinking feeling that I was already in over my head, even as we hiked for our warmup climb.

    Higher Cathedral Spire.

    Higher Cathedral Spire.

    As we arrived to the climb, we realized that there was already a party on the route, a common occurrence for any popular climb in Yosemite. We sat back where the party could not see us, and figured we’d just wait and get on the route when they were a ways up. I was always secretly relieved when something slowed Tim down, weather, other people on the route, not being able to find the route; these were all blessings in disguise for me not wanting to face my fears.

     

    The scene that unfolded on Braille Book was something we still talk about to this day. The party was two guys who seemed more out of their element than I did; they climbed very slowly and made commands every time they placed a piece of gear, “point” the leader would say as he put something into the crack, “point” the belayer would reply. They were wearing camouflage shirts and pants, and had apparently received some sort of training for climbing in the military. We started to giggle at their ridiculousness, and a wave of relief came over me. I wasn’t the worst or most scared climber in Yosemite; their progress was so incredibly slow that those guys might still be up there to this day. We laughed and joked about their “point” system all the way back to the car and got beers.

    The objective then changed to Nutcracker, one of the many all time classic moderates of Yosemite, a four pitch 5.9 that has been climbed by thousands and thousands of people. This I felt good about, and Tim was game for anything and everything, he just wanted to get up on the walls. Somehow we managed to start climbing on the wrong formation. Yosemite, all the formations are now imprinted in my mind after years of climbing there, but, then it was El Cap and Half Dome, and everything else was a mystery. Tim climbed up, on some rock that we convinced ourselves resembled the description from the topo, and ended up running out a crack on a slab, clipping some bolts at the top, and bringing me up. The rock was full of lichen and dirty and I was thinking there was no way this could be Nutcracker. I arrived at Tim’s anchor, two old rusty bolts, and my belief was confirmed. We bailed, hiked around some more, finally finding the start to Nutcracker, and made plans to return in the morning.

    We returned and got in line for the Nutcracker, there was a party in front of us, and another behind. The climb went smoothly, though at one point I remember being so gripped on a 5.8 pitch that I had to calm myself down with a mantra, chanting our fallen friend Josh’s name, along with the name of a legendary Yosemite climber that had also passed away a few years before, Walt Shipley. “Josh Burdick, Walt Shipley, Josh Burdick, Walt Shipley….” It seems so ridiculous now to think about it, but that was the way it happened. Tim was in his element and cruised all of his leads.

    We knew little of the rules of Yosemite and camped by just simply putting our sleeping bags down wherever we felt like it. Of course, this doesn’t last long without an encounter with a ranger, and we learned that lesson the hard way, woken up in the middle of the night by a ranger asking us what the hell we were doing just sleeping next to the road. I suppose getting hassled by a ranger in Yosemite is a rite of passage in some strange way for a climber.

    Even the often climbed, moderate classics of Yosemite were an adventure on that trip, including the Central Pillar of Frenzy on the Middle Cathedral. Somehow we walked all the way from the opposite side of the Valley to get to this climb and found ourselves wading through the Merced River on the approach, a ridiculous way. It felt so adventurous though, like discovering how to live like Huck Finn in my early twenties. The essence of climbing is where all the beauty, adventure and joy exist.

    This climb is splitter, if I do recall correctly, funny what one remembers from a climb a decade ago. I remember Tim leading up, smoothly of course, and after a couple pitches it was my lead. El Capitan loomed behind us, the only audience for our journey up the five pitch route. Tim handed the rack over to me for a stout 5.9 crack pitch. I started jamming up and then almost went into my meltdown mode where I would face my fear with fear and give up. I started to complain to Tim fifteen feet below me. “This is hard Tim, I don’t know…” He glanced back with this look, and said something like, “It’s not going to get any easier,” and stared at me more intensely. With Tim’s look and the presence of El Cap behind us, something moved within me, and I dug inside and was able to complete the pitch with some style. Tim’s leads were controlled efforts, jamming his hands and feet into the perfect granite cracks, jamming up and somewhere higher.

    Something happened with the rappel and we got our ropes stuck, but we made it to the ground and hitchhiked back to the Purple Truck. It was a European couple that picked us up, and it was fun to hitchhike, we’d rarely done it before.

    Tim showed more of his Zen crack climbing skills in Yosemite, leading all the way up to 5.10d at the crags, all of this in basically his first year of climbing. We smoked and drank and ate ice cream and enjoyed the horizontal as much as the vertical. Finally our time was coming to an end, and we picked out one last adventure. We decided to hike up to Half Dome and climb the moderate Snake Dike. I’d found a free online topo of the climb on Supertopo.com and we’d been studying the thing for months. I was nervous about the runout 5.7, but I could always have Tim lead that stuff. With full packs we hiked miles and miles up the trail. We were going to camp out near the base of the climb and then go up the following morning. I remember being nervous until running into a family of six that had just climbed the route, a Dad and his five kids. That night we ate cold beans out of a can and dreamed of food. Tim didn’t even bring a sleeping bag and acting like he didn’t need one, curled up with very little.

    In the morning, we found our way to the slabby Snake Dike. I got scared on a 5.7 pitch, but managed to keep it together. The rest of the climb went up an easy runout dike system. We topped out to a hundred tourists atop Half Dome who marveled at our climbing gear as we looked out across the Yosemite Valley. It was interesting to climb down the 4th class cables route on the backside and see timid tourists freaking out over the exposure. I guess there was part of me in that unwarranted fear they put on display. We walked miles and miles down the trail, past hundreds of hikers to find our packs at the base of Snake Dike. Now, in repose, I would like to think I was thinking about how grateful I was to have a partner like Tim, who tolerated my slow learning curve in climbing, but I was probably thinking about ice cream and food.

    It was a long journey home in the purple truck, but there was that satisfaction of a good climbing trip in the air, our first real big trip together; nothing epic by any sort of climbing standards, but big enough for me.

    Tim and I moved out of our apartment, and we both moved into tents for the rest of the fall. He received the nickname Two Tent Timmy when he had a tent inside of a tent rigged up in the hills of Crested Butte, the mountain town just north of Gunnison. Gold Tooth Timmy came later when he knocked his front teeth out in the break dancing accident; ironically, this coincided with his first day of downhill skiing ever; neither activity stuck for him. The nickname T-Drizzle was inspired when he dressed as a weatherman with a mustache for Halloween; still, to this day, Tim is ready, at any given moment, to give an impromptu weather forecast. He’s known in our circle to be climbing’s first weatherman.

    We climbed more, sometimes together, sometimes with other partners. As the years unfolded we climbed together less and less. No falling out, just living life. He moved to Oregon, which put a great amount of distance between us. Ironically, it was me who went full on into the climbing life, and I paid my dues to learn to climb at various areas around the west and in Mexico, living in a tent for months at a time, and scrounging by on the money I saved from various jobs.

    This past winter Tim and I reconnected. We were both home in Illinois visiting for the holidays. Now in our thirties, a trip back to the old gym in Illinois was as nostalgic as gym climbing can be. Tim hadn’t climbed much in the last four years, but he was itching to get back into it. A couple of young kids from Iowa were visiting the gym, and noticed my shirt that said Gunnison, Colorado on the back. One of them had visited Gunnison the previous summer, and we talked about the majesty of outdoor opportunities there. I looked at the youngsters and wondered if they had similar adventures to look forward to as their twenties unfolded. I hoped so.

    We rented a lead line and went about our workout at the gym where it all started. I led a climb, Tim toproped it, and then it was time for a lead of his own. He picked out an overhanging 5.10. He tied in and set off, slowly climbing up till the wall got steep. He was getting tense, and I could tell he was struggling with his lead head, even in the gym. After about twenty feet, he yelled down to take, and rested on the rope.

    Here was my hero, back to square one with climbing. He handled the setback like a champion. I think athletes define themselves by how they handle defeat as much as how they handle success. Tim didn’t throw a fit, didn’t curse in anger, he just simply tried again. And again. Finally he just resigned to the fact that he “didn’t have it” and lowered off. But it was on.

    We talked about plans to get Tim back in shape. He was on a break from work, and my employment at the moment consisted solely of freelance writing. Plus, I was living in Durango, Colorado, a great winter climbing locale, and just over two hours from the red rock Utah desert. Plans were set to climb again.

    Tim drove out from Illinois to meet me in Durango. We started off by hitting up the local sport climbing crag the Golf Wall, where everything is overhanging. Again, progress was a struggle for Tim, as he built up his strength by working some steep 5.10s. We also hit up the local traditional crag, East Animas, and eventually made our way out to Indian Creek, the crack climbing Mecca, only two and a half hours from Durango.

    At The Creek, Tim quickly regained his prowess. It wasn’t long before he was leading 5.10s and even getting into 5.11s. His strength was coming back, and so was his mental fortitude, his lead head. Other friends who climbed with us remarked how incredible his ability was after four years off.

    It was great to have a reunion with my best friend. Our abilities were finally on a similar level, and we had a great time just camping and chillin’ together again. Something that often gets lost when climbing is recorded and put into words is the down moments, when you’re not climbing, those horizontal moments, watching the sun set over the campfire, even just sitting at the crag, experiencing freedom, friendship.

    One day of climbing led into another, and more and more plans and ideas were hatched. Eventually it was time for Tim to head back to Oregon. Of course, we made a visit to the desert before he left, a few days at The Creek, and then a visit to the towers of Castle Valley to cap it all off.

    It was incredible how fast Tim got his strength back, and how quickly roles reversed. After a couple weeks of training, bringing him back to his previous climbing fitness, I was again trying to keep up with him. Plus he had the fire, and no climber is complete without the fire. On day three of our visit in The Creek, I resigned to toproping what he could set up. He was still going, energized; he remarked how he had to get it all in before he went back home.

    Day four on, we headed over to Castle Valley for a lap up Castleton. It had been ten years since we first climbed it. I couldn’t help but think of a verse from the Pink Floyd song “Dark Side of the Moon,” as we hiked up to the base of the tower, “You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today. And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.” IMG_0683

    Ten years! I pieced together the math as we hiked up. We talked about our friend Jerid, who didn’t climb anymore, but was happily married and living out in Washington. I thought of Josh, our friend that never made it past twenty one years old. I thought of how comfortable the vertical world was becoming as we aged into our thirties. Like home.

    There was no nervousness about Castleton Tower. I was even going to lead that crux 5.9 chimney pitch. I knew it would still be difficult, these type of things never get easy, but in many ways this was what I was living for: the gratifying physical and spiritual challenge that is climbing. The view of the La Sal Mountains to the west was still impressive and striking, the red rock expanse of the desert still inviting, not much had changed in ten years.

    We progressed up the tower at a satisfying pace, remarking how impressed we were with our younger selves, climbing the route with significantly less gear ten years ago. I wormed my way up the crux chimney pitch, tired, as we’d been climbing four days in a row, but happy to be strolling through memory lane, stronger, physically and mentally, than I was when I was twenty two.

    No one was around that day; we had the whole expanse to ourselves. The summit provided the view that it always does, the same view that it did ten years ago, but our eyes were different. I looked over to my companion, my best friend in life, the one I owe my climbing existence to, the one who showed me how to live, through climbing. IMG_0664

    We rigged our rappel, made it back down to the ground safely and walked back to camp as we talked about returning to various routes in the vertical world together, again and again.

    This piece is an excerpt from The Great American Dirtbags, available in print on 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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  • IMG_0582

    Freedom (a poem) by Luke Mehall

    Jul 1 • Locations • 159 Views

    Freedom, where are you?

    I found you briefly, growing up in the flatlands

    And then, you were flattened

    By growing up, taking tests

    Who would have known to fail was the best?

    I failed so many times I failed at failure

    Wailing with the prospect that I had nothing

     

    Freedom, I looked for you

    In magic mushrooms and LSD

    Smoking marijuana every chance I got

    Risking getting busted and imprisonment

    To escape a mental prison

    Freedom, I found you in Allen Ginsberg’s America

    As my tears spilled into my murderous coffee

    Freedom, did I see you again at the campfire?

    Did I see you when I gave up and wasn’t looking?

    When I wanted to die because

    I had nothing to live for?

     

    Freedom I found you in climbing, higher and higher

    Till all negativity and doubt perspired

    Leaving just me

    Realizing at the time all I wanted to be, was to be

     

    Freedom, then I got addicted to you

    And the addiction was just as false

    As freedom being found in simply the red, white and blue

    freedom

    It can be, true, but what I learned most about you

    I learned you are an ingredient

    An essential part in the recipe of a human life

    Too much and your heart and soul will ache

    Not enough give, too much take

     

    Freedom, I think I understand you more

    I learned more than I ever wanted to know

    (at the time)

    Freedom, now I’ll compliment you in rhyme

    Freedom, I’ll always be searching in climbing, above

    Freedom, you are the best

    When complemented with love

    This poem is an excerpt from Mehall’s second book, The Great American Dirtbags. His most recent book is called American Climber

    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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  • @jcollis001 (photographer) @davidbfay (in photo) Part way up the lotus flower tower and stoked for a brief spell of sunshine

    Review: Mammut Whymper Jacket

    Jun 25 • Gear • 182 Views

    Mammut designed the Whymper Jacket to celebrate the 150-year anniversary of Edward Whymper’s ascent of the Matterhorn. With taped seams, an adjustable hood, hem and cuff adjustments, underarm zips and large pockets the Whymper Jacket attempts to be the jacket Edward Whymper could never even have dreamed of. Let’s see how it did.

    Reviewed by: David Fay 

    Retail: $500

    Medium Weight: When compared to other hard shell jackets with similar features, The Whymper (15.9 oz) is a bit heavier than the Patagonia Refugitive (14.7 oz) and a bit lighter than the Arc’teryx Theta AR (18.1oz). The lightest hard shell jackets forgo the underarm zips, large front pockets and interior pocket and weigh between 8-12 oz.

    POP

    Breathability / Weather Proof: Over the last 8 months, I have tested this jacket on alpine rock climbs in the Cirque of the Unclimbables along with backcountry skis and ice climbs in the San Juan Mountains. As expected, this jacket performed very well protecting me from rain, snow and wind. When I am active the underarm zips and Gore-Tex Pro 3L technology provide adequate ventilation, yet after several hours of sustained activity I found the breathability could not keep up with my sweat. On the whole I expected to get very wet in the hard shell and was impressed with how the Gore-Tex Pro 3L 40d technology worked to keep me dry.

    Mobility and Fit: Overall this jacket has a wide range of features suitable to finding comfort in the alpine. I have appreciated the slim fit of this jacket, which helps prevent material from getting snagged when climbing cracks or skiing trees. Also I still have full range of motion in my shoulders so I can reach hand hold above my head without getting any lift at the waistline. The zippers and pull cords are all easily adjustable with gloves and there are two large pockets on the front that I have used to store ski goggles and extra snacks. Without a helmet on, there is a lot of dead space in the hood, but with a helmet the hood fits snugly and securely. At first this jacket was quite crinkling. Yet after 2 months of use, the crinkly noise dissipated. The slim fit and multiple features make the Whymper Jacket a good choice across a number of alpine adventures.

    Bottom Line: The Whymper Jacket offers great weather protection at a moderate weight with a variety of glove-adjustable features.

    The Mammut Whymper Jacket 

    David Fay is a contributor to The Climbing Zine and holder of at least one naked speed record. You can read more of his work at his blog. 

    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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