Art and stories from the sharpest writers in the climbing world right now: Georgie Abel, Chris Schulte, Joy Martin, Drew Thayer, Hilary Lempit, Jason Haas, Luke Mehall, Tim Rogers, Brooke Sandahl, Alexa Flower, Rhiannon Williams, Amy Lipschultz, Monika Leopold, Tristan Greszko, and Greg Cairns.
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Here’s some words from the introduction by Luke Mehall:
Introduction—Last Thoughts on the Dirtbag
So where do you look for this hope that you’re seeking?
Where do find that campfire that’s a burnin’
That will light your life for the rest of its days?
Last year, my buddy Greg Cairns and I spent a handful of sessions creating a short film, set in my favorite cragging area on the planet: Indian Creek.
I’d pitched Greg on the idea shortly after meeting him. He’d just graduated from college here in Durango, and I’d sensed his hunger and enthusiasm to make something of himself as a filmmaker in this world. I’d never been part of creating a film before, but I had a vision: write a simple poem that really articulated what climbing and the dirtbag lifestyle meant to me.
I shaped the structure of the piece very similarly to how Bob Dylan wrote “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie,” his epic stream-of-consciousness poem he penned as a dedication to Mr. Guthrie, who inspired him so much as a singer-songwriter. Dylan takes us all on a ride that could very much be the journey of the American on the road, looking for something. As I wrote, I decided the piece would be my own tribute to Dylan, as well as all the climbers over the years that I’ve shared a rope with.
Greg really had to push me on this one, and I’ll forever be grateful for his hounding e-mails. Any creative person knows that you can’t just turn up the inspiration whenever—it has to strike you. There also has to be some work involved. A willingness to sit at your desk and write out words that you’ll erase. Shit, climbing is the same way; any true project has to build the foundation upon failure after failure. That’s why it’s so great when we send in the end, right?
Eventually we had a script, and we started filming. We dialed in the rigging techniques, and immediately I had a profound respect for those big dogs that create films on the big walls and big mountains of the world. Greg shot me and several others on various Indian Creek classics and some new routes we’d been working on out there, and we thought we had a solid draft.
Then something happened. Greg and I both saw “Denali” by Ben Moon, Ben Knight, and Skip Armstrong—one of the most moving short films of the year about a man and his dying dog. Greg was immediately inspired and became convinced that we had to elevate our film and do some more shooting.
So we did. We went back to Indian Creek, and during our first day at the 4×4 Wall, we ran into an older gentlemen named Alan Carne. He was alone at the wall and began talking us up. He was clearly super psyched, and as it often is in the world of climbing, we immediately all became friends. Then we saw him climb. He was simply the most efficient and technically proficient crack climber I’d ever seen. Then we found out his age: fifty-five.
We camped with Alan that night. Where else but the climbing world do you meet a stranger and then immediately bring him into your close circle of friends? His energy was infectious, almost like that of a young twenty-something, but his energy is coupled with the wisdom of age and time. I told Alan all about the film project, how the words were inspired by Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and even some of the modern-day rappers like Andre 3000. We discussed the dirtbag existence and how it intertwines with the beatnik existence.
Alan listened carefully and reflected on his early days of dirtbagging. He grew up poor in Manchester, England, and started climbing at fifteen with old twine ropes and hip belays. He told us of sleeping in bathroom shelters and sneaking into taverns at night just to stay warm. He and his compadres lived on the doll (their version of unemployment) at a time when work was scarce in England, truly living hand to mouth, surviving day to day.
His passion for climbing kept burning throughout those dark years, and today he lives in the South of France near the Verdon Gorge and spends as much time on the road climbing as he does at home in France.
After we finished filming, I kept in touch with Alan. I later learned he’d flashed the famous Tague Yer Time, a 5.12+ Grade V in the Black Canyon, and after that made his way to Yosemite and spent three weeks working to free the Muir Wall on El Capitan, climbing 5.13 pitches with partners who were less than half his age.
A couple weeks after his time in Yosemite, I e-mailed Alan and asked if I could write an article about him. He obliged, and we spent a couple hours talking about his past, but more importantly, his present and future. He was so hungry for more free climbing on El Capitan, already contemplating working the 5.13c Pre Muir variation in the coming spring. I picked his brain about the old days, and he eloquently told me, “The good ol’ days weren’t always that good.”
I’ll let the story speak for itself. This is the old school issue. We never force a theme with the Zine; we set the theme, accept submissions and art, and let the issue shape up naturally. Personally, (to borrow the words from a hook off an old 2 Pac track) I know we wouldn’t be here today if the old school didn’t pave the way.
So cheers to you old school climbers, especially those like Alan, who are still getting better, still thriving for more out of life and climbing. You created the foundation we stand upon today.
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.