City of Rocks


To a climber that’s all one has to say. The word implies good times, good fun – a vacation. To a non-climber how can I explain it? Cragging is when you go to a climbing area where all the climbs are an easy 5-10 minute walk from the car and the climbs are maximum 1 or 2 rope-lengths. Where you can easily find yourself in a terrifying situation 20 feet off the ground… but in 30 minutes you’re back on the terra firma laughing at your antics that took place a few minutes ago. Cragging means you go to an area and set up your tent and cook a fine meal. At night you sit around a campfire, drink beer, chat with old friends and make new friends. The alarm goes off at 7am, you tank up on coffee and go climb hard for 8-10 hours. Then you wander back to camp, make another fine meal, stoke the fire and crack open a beer. Best results are obtained when you repeat for 5 days or more.

When I lived in Virginia I used to crag all the time. Most of my college years were spent at classic east coast crags: the New River Gorge, Seneca, Looking Glass, Red River Gorge. Any place from the far southwest corner of North Carolina to the far northwest corner of Kentucky might see our car roll in at 2am Friday night. We climbed hard all weekend and stumbled back to class on Monday morning tired, bloody, sore and full of stories.

My climbing partners from those years were good friends and we shared many adventures. These days they’re scattered all around the country: they’re writers, guides, programmers, network engineers, cabinet makers and students. One is a sculpture artist who lives outside of Boise. My college climbing partner and roommate who left college to become a climbing bum, never went back to college, opting instead to camp host at Hueco Tanks. He later decided to actually apply his head to something other than cam placement and became a Cisco CCIE network engineer. Another climbing partner saw opportunity when Colorado legalized medicinal marijuana and became a medicinal marijuana hydroponics system installer. Legend has it he is living it up in his newly insulated Colorado cabin.

But I digress… as one often does when one goes cragging. Nights are spent sitting around the campfire remembering climbs and the friends that go with them. “If I think of life’s journey as a wheel,” a (climbing) friend once told me. “Then my climbs are the spokes that hold everything together.”

This past June I went to City of Rocks. I went with Bryce and we met old friends and made new friends. Kathy Zukor – an old ex-Anchorite – escaped her doctorate Neurology program for a weekend and showed the boys what it’s like rock climb often and actually be in shape. John Wells – another ex-Anchorite filled our heads with stories of his job where all he does is hike the canyons outside of Salt Lake City. “They pay you to do that?” we asked incredulously. He also tickets dog owners… but that’s a sore spot and we won’t go there. We met friends of friends, southeast Alaskan climbers escaping the rains, people from all over the west coast…

And we climbed. For 5 days we climbed hard and only climbed classic routes with 3 or more stars. World Famous routes that all craggers have heard of: Skyline, Scream Cheese, Rye Crisp, Wheat Thin, New York is not the City. Wide cracks, thin cracks, overhangs, slabs. Over-bolted sport routes (Too much fun) – run out “classics” (Lost Arrow Spire’s Original Route)… the list goes on.

Bryce on top of Lost Arrow Spire.

We camped next to nesting great horned owls, at night the bats swooped over our camp and at the end of 5 days we left fulfilled and strong wondering why we don’t crag more often.