The Desert is Luke Mehall’s fifth and final offering in his series of dirtbag climbing books. The book begins with Mehall’s first trip to The Desert, a visit to Indian Creek in 1999, and chronicles nearly two decades of experiences.
Over time the author grows from thinking that the red rock desert of the Colorado Plateau is just another stop along the way, to finding himself more and more at home there.
Ultimately the author’s passion for first ascents with his best friends fuels his desire to get to know the area in an intimate way. At the same time that this transformation occurs the Bears Ears National Monument is created by the Obama administration, and then ultimately dismantled by the Trump administration. While the final decision by the courts is awaited Mehall contemplates the importance of public lands for the soul of America. He also pulls no punches with his thoughts on Trump’s decision.
The Desert is a definitive, independently published account of a dirtbag climber searching for love, passion, fresh air, and, ultimately an escape from the electronic hyper-connectedness of the modern world.
The rewards all come from my publishing company, Benighted Publications, which includes my books, The Climbing Zine, and our merchandising arm. Here's a look at some of the beautiful art from those offerings:
Luke Mehall lives in Durango, Colorado. He is the publisher of The Climbing Zine, an independent print publication and website, and he is the author of American Climber, Graduating From College Me, The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed. He has been published in the Alpinist, Rock and Ice, and Patagonia’s blog The Cleanest Line. He has also appeared on the Enormocast and Dirtbag Diaries podcasts.
And here's a little passage from The Desert:
I had my ultimate best belayer in the pocket, Tim. As climbing partners, we’re often on different levels. We joke that we’re seasonal friends. In the winter, it’s all about the ice for Tim, while I avoid cold situations as much as possible. In The Creek, Tim seems content all the time, while I’m only really content once I’ve trashed myself to the fullest on the cracks. Tim always sees the little things, the trail that needs a rock here or there, and he’ll spend the time to make a small, minor thing that’s wrong right. I always need to have the final goal, the big picture in my mind, always working toward it. But through our friendship over the years, I’ve learned more about caring for The Desert from him than anyone else. And, I’ve put my work in helping him with various trail projects. And we’ve replaced our fair share of anchors together too. You can thank Tim for those nice glue-in bolts on Scarface, an anchor that you used to be able to wiggle one of the bolts out with your hand. No one ever mentioned that in their Insta-Spraybook post, because no one ever noticed. Oh, the things we climbers trust our lives upon.
When I tie in and Tim’s on the other end, I always know I’ll have the best belay possible. It’s more than that he just seems to be my good luck charm; I’ve sent many of my hardest first ascents with Tim as my belayer. Perhaps there’s just so much trust and history between us, and it lives on through the rope.
So I tied in with that figure 8 knot of infinity, and I had that feeling of calm mixed with nerves—going into a battle with the crack, but in reality only with myself. It was the type of sport I was made for: competition with oneself.
The initial section of face climbing nearly spit me off—twenty feet up there’s a thin mantle where you move your feet damn near your knees and reach up for a quarter-sized edge. The bolt below will keep you off the ground, but there’s a scary possibility of a whipper. I mantled efficiently and then was standing up on that little edge, clipping the next bolt. The first of four cruxy sections had been navigated. After more face climbing, fifty feet up, I looked down to a string of six clipped bolts, with damn near ninety feet of finger and finger stacks jams ahead of me. The position was unique—I know not of another pitch in The Creek that The King can be compared to.
To try to give a move-by-move description would be impossible. The only thing I know is that I entered a state, the state of mind, that a crack climber wants to enter. First it’s painful, and a little scary, then all of a sudden, all that matters is the try, the moment. The line is so fine between climbing and failing; you’re right there, just trying, trying to hang on.
Soon enough, as I’d battled this crack with all my heart, I was clipping the anchors. Then, a feeling that I’ve maybe never felt before and likely won’t ever again washed over me—“It was not me; it was not me,” I said at the anchors. It was surreal, a complete transcendence that was pretty much the best feeling ever, perhaps because I felt my ego detach while at the same time realizing I’d climbed the most sustained crack I’d ever tried.
Praise for the book:
“I don’t know if Luke Mehall is aging gracefully, but his prose in The Desert has gained a spirit and command pushed on by a desperation that someone, anyone understand how important the desert is to the consciousness and conscience of the American West. Mehall’s generation may be the last to find the desert as we remember: open, wild, and free, and while the stories in The Desert are deep, soulfull, and often inspirational, the subtle keening for a future lost may be what draws the reader the most.”
“Luke Mehall's takes climbing literature to a whole new level. His writing is not only illuminating but incredibly timeless. His words crackle with excitement and disperse thin slices of happiness like few authors can do.”
Last Thoughts on The Dirtbag (a poem and film) by Luke Mehall and Greg Cairns (click on the photo to watch)
Risks and challenges
The reason I'm launching another Kickstarter is to pay for all the upfront costs an independent writer has: editing, design, printing, cover art, etc.
The major risk and challenge would be for folks who are inspired by my writing to take action, with this project even pledging that "you got 5 on it" is important.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)