My kind of (climbing) town
As I contemplated what to write for my column this week, there are many voices in my head competing for attention. Or rather there are so many things to write about it’s difficult to know where to start. If I’ve learned anything in my 20-plus years of writing, sometimes you just have to get the pen a moving; then it can take off and fly.
I’m fresh off my first real road trip since before COVID. I took a journey up to Lander, Wyo., for the International Climbers Festival. It’s my favorite “work” trip of the year – all week long myself and friends promote The Climbing Zine – and I also get to connect with old friends, while making some new ones. It’s my version of adult summer camp.
I drove up solo and met two friends – Keith and Olly – who flew in from Ecuador. I needed the solo driving time to clear my head. Like many people, this last year and a half has been one of the hardest times in my life. A long-term relationship ended, and like many times before, I’m starting anew. Add the grief of friends lost, and I think I’ve cried more in this last year than ever before. There’s a time and place for everything; the seasons of the heart that we must endure.
The open road felt good yet somehow foreign again. I like how quiet Wyoming is. Lander has world class climbing all around it, and every time I’m there I wish I had more time there.
Part of what I love so much about this climbing festival is what I can return home with. The climbing community there is very engaged. It’s a climbing town, perhaps the best climbing town in the United States.
While Durango is a great place to be a climber, you’ll have to drive 2½ hours to be in a world class climbing area, like Indian Creek. In short, we are not necessarily a climbing town, but we have a lot of climbers here. I’m constantly amazed by how many new climbers I meet. And though our crags and boulders are not necessarily destination worthy, to me they are endlessly challenging and interesting.
I knew when I moved here, I wanted to play a role in the climbing community, but first I had to get my finger on the pulse of the community. I’d lived in Gunnison for a decade prior, and there were many similarities between Gunny climbers and Durango climbers. Both have a sense of rugged individualism embedded within them.
One thing I noticed, though, is that there was more bickering about ethics here between climbers – almost exclusively males – and most of it took place via online forums. One day my buddy Tony said, “You know what we need is a night where climbers can all gather face to face.”
Out of that statement Climber Beer Night was born. We’ve hosted every single one at Carvers, and over the years, in addition to getting climbers together face to face, we’ve raised several thousand dollars for climbing and environmental nonprofits. Though we don’t have a date on the books yet, we are hoping to bring this event back sometime in the fall.
A few years ago, my friend Mitch, who was involved with our local American Alpine Club chapter, asked me if I knew of any climbing related projects that he could take on. One thing I thought of is the danger of unaware tourists throwing rocks off into Cascade Canyon. Since there’s no signage there for them to understand that people might be below, I thought it would be a good idea to perhaps place a couple signs that read “no rock throwing, climbers and hikers below.”
Mitch contacted the Forest Service, which informed him that much of Cascade Canyon is actually located on private property. The entrance and parking are on Forest Service land, but the main features like the waterfall, are all on private property. This led to a much bigger goal than simple signage: acquiring this property to allow the public to use it.
Once we found out about this, we created a group called the Durango Climbers Coalition. The group remained somewhat stagnant for a few years, but in the last few months, we’ve had some nice momentum, due in part to recent graffiti tags at Sailing Hawks and X-Rock.
The graffiti is very unfortunate – you kids should climb rocks not tag them – but it has led to a banding together of climbers. We’ve learned the best techniques to remove graffiti, which involves pressure washers and a material called Elephant Snot. In the process we’ve been building relationships with the land managers from the BLM, the City of Durango, and La Plata County. Next weekend we’ll tackle the extensive graffiti that occurred at X-Rock with the help of Keeping Colorado Beautiful, a Colorado Springs-based group that focuses on graffiti removal. (If you’re interested in helping feel free to shoot me an email.)
We’re just now getting the Durango Climbers Coalition off the ground, but we are aiming to help keep our local climbing areas open, and clean. And of course build community. I’m also very excited that Durango has a new climbing gym on the way, the Gravity Lab, that two dear friends, Laura and Sebastiaan are opening. I think that’s going to be a great community builder, and a great outlet for kids and adults alike.
I’ll see y’all out there on the trail and the rocks!
– Luke Mehall
Luke Mehall is the publisher of The Climbing Zine and the host of the Dirtbag State of Mind podcast. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and more of his work can be read at www.climbingzine.com.