This young hippie left a bag of his groceries with my stuff after last weekend climbing in the Creek—granola, ramen, tortillas—you know, the usual, standard fare. Same stuff I was eating fifteen years ago when I was a young, idealistic, over-stoker bohemian type.
by Luke Mehall, an excerpt from his book, Graduating From College Me. Banner photo by Michael Shaw.
We’d invited a couple of our younger friends along for the adventure of sampling some new routes, and they invited a few of their friends, so it was kinda this big hippie adventure.
From my perspective, hippie or not, there are only two types of young climbers: the cocky ones who don’t want your advice or help, and the other, more humble types, the ones who sense that climbing is this adventure thing that you take a big bite off of, more than you can chew, and then you sort it out as you go along. Fortunately, this crew all fell in the latter category.
We older climbers are scarce when compared to the masses that are joining our culture of cliff dancing. Yeah, it’s cliff dancing out here in the desert, ’cause it ain’t no damn sport—most of the time we just sit around and look at how beautiful it is, but beautiful is not the right word: it’s sublime; it’s something we NEED, not something we can do without once we know it.
But they (you) barely know it, and once it’s tasted, more is desired. This is where souls come to heal and get bruised at the same time, but you know it’s the body that is bruised, not the spirit. The spirit is invigorated here.
And there is poetry here, and they (you) know it all instinctually. But what you don’t know instinctually is how to climb in this place, how to protect it, and how to treat it right. That’s where we come in. We’ve learned. Sometimes the hard way. I know there are plenty of times when I did the wrong thing, when I got off trail, or when I didn’t pack out my poop. But you know, we make these mistakes, and then we try to share the information so that we’re not all making these mistakes all the time. The desert is a precious place. And at this moment in time, when we are preoccupied with digital technology, the desert speaks supreme truths about our souls. It helps us protect our souls.
When I hear of climbing and the next generation, it’s always in the terms of sport and athleticism. What about aesthetics? What about climbing as art? What about climbing as life? What about climbing as love? What about climbing as an escape from this industry that wants us glued to our phones? And where do they learn this?
And what the hell do I know about answers? I’m still searching, and I’m learning that a lot of answers just probably don’t come until old age, or death. And even though I’m approaching forty years old, that number doesn’t seem old or wise anymore.
I can only know what I see in them and the few things I’m able to teach them. Yes, you should get a helmet. No, don’t get into that bowline knot; sure it works, but is it fail proof like the Figure 8? Yes, you do need a bigger pack, especially for these Indian Creek days. Tape is good; it protects from the gobies, because it’s bad style to bleed all over a route, and you’ll last longer if you protect your skin. Water is good too. So is beer if you can handle yourself, but save it for the end of the day.
Sunsets, yeah sunsets at the Creek are the best. Don’t you just wish you could fade away with it sometimes? But like Neil Young said, it’s better to burn out than fade away. I guess. Do you guys still listen to Neil Young and Bob Dylan and The Dead? Cool. Yeah, I thought you did.
You’re not all hippies though. I get it. I just have a romantic notion toward hippieness ’cause that’s where I started. But, I hope you’re different than mainstream America, ’cause mainstream sucks. It’s boring. It’s not doing good things for America. It’s why we have Trump and TVs that are on all the time, and how do you even think with a TV on all the time? How do you think different thoughts? I’ve pondered this a lot, and my only answer is to disconnect and be Out There. Or Out Here. But even those moments that I’m drawing upon from yesterday that were simple and beautiful are now the past.
The next generation, I probably have more to offer you in writing and stories than I do with us climbing together. I can only share a rope with so few of you. I can only warn so few of you in person how high the stakes are in climbing.
That climbing wants to kill you. It really does.
It’s like that spider, I forget which one, that mates with its prey and then kills and eats it. Climbing isn’t plastic or pretty, or even sexy most of the time. It’s dirty and dark and secretive until you’ve paid your dues by almost losing your life. And, even then, it takes your friends to the next climb, that thing called death. But, it’s everything too, especially in this world gone crazy that gets crazier every day. Climbing brings us to nature, and that is where we came from, so yeah, that’s why this lifestyle feels so good.
Social media, and the media in general, promises that your generation will take the grades higher and the objectives bigger. Shit, maybe someday someone will even free solo El Capitan. I’m sure that all will happen—evolution in our sport is predictable even if it’s still mind blowing. While the world awaits V17, I know most of you will be chuffing through your experiences like outdoor climbers have always done and will always do, sharing sunsets and sips of water, preparing for that perfect moment on that perfect climb, that place and moment in time that is all yours, on this ball of rock hurling through space.
Luke Mehall is the publisher of The Climbing Zine, and author of Graduating From College Me, American Climber, The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed.
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.