Sand Blog

sunrise, capitol reef, dawn

It’s now midsummer, baking hot in the desert, time to relax with a cold beer or two. Welcome to my new website. I hope to build this up as a place for stories about climbing and exploring around the Colorado Plateau, and all things related. Four years ago I wrote a book about the history of climbing in the desert. It runs to 350 pages, yet still seems utterly inadequate. There are so many stories, so much history, so much change. Since the publication in 2011, we’ve lost Layton Kor, Harvey Carter and Eric Bjornstad, three giant figures who climbed so many first ascents during the 1960s and 70s. They represent an attitude: self-sufficiency, fearlessness and, above all, a restless curiosity about the world. In the 1960s the very best climbers were amateurs; more akin to highly skilled daredevils than the athletes of today. 

My first time climbing was in 1976, at a windswept crag in northern England. Three of us newbies were herded along the cliff-base by an experienced climber who set easy topropes for us. I still remember how it felt, leaning out and staring downward between my legs at the distant ground and far off people. The other novices that day preferred not to look down, as this made them aware of where they—high in the air—and this induced fear and hesitation. For me, leaning out and looking down was was exhilarating, it seemed like the whole point.

The thrill was enough that, back on the ground, growing bored of waiting for my fellow trainees as they wobbled upward, I quietly wandered back to our previous route and scurried up it again. Ropeless, alone, the exhilarating feeling, when I leaned out and stared down, was even more powerful. I was hooked!

 I’ve been hunting for and enjoying that same excitement ever since. In 40 years of climbing I've found it on El Capitan, Half Dome, The Diamond, Redgarden Wall, the brutal verticality of the Black Canyon, the rowdy sea-cliffs of the UK.

And then there’s the desert. Somehow, other places have become tamed: more popular, more familiar, safer now with modern gear and techniques and better information. But in the vast silence and emptiness of the desert there are still secrets, hidden places as yet unseen. Tottering rock towers where modern equipment and gym-honed skills count for little and success requires street smarts, perseverance and cunning: the realm, to this day, of the skilled daredevil. 

Harvey T. Carter, one of my great heroes, a true desert-climbing aficionado, understood this. He wrote, “Desert time passes but never seems to change. Climbing in the desert is different, it is still part of the past. All climbers be assured that the more “good fights” a climber has had, the richer he becomes.”

With this website, I want to share some of the riches I’ve accumulated over the years.

       Crusher, July 2015