Editor’s note: Tommy Caldwell appeared in a video for social media, Matty Van Biene hosted a letter-writing party, Josh Ewing works for a nonprofit group—the ways to help Bears Ears are many but the time to act is now. The Bears Ears Coalition is seeking permanent protection for this magical region in southeastern Utah, and the Obama administration will be making a decision in the next few months. Join us. Protect Bears Ears by signing the petition today.
I watched as Josh pressed his face against the sandstone. His glasses tilt, struggling to stay on his face. 150 feet off the ground, he smears the rubber of his shoes against a smooth wall, shoving his hands into a crack as it streaks out an overhang and continues onto the face above. He pulls out the lip of the roof, finds his feet and pauses for a moment, balancing. The pull of gravity appears to cease, and he’s able to calmly survey the path above. Continuing to climb, his body sways back and forth as if swimming upwards. With the poise of a seasoned crack climber, he pulls onto the summit of the North Six Shooter, the tower formation that stands proudly in the center of Indian Creek.
Josh Ewing has been climbing here for years and is leading a grassroots campaign to turn Indian Creek and the surrounding desert into the Bears Ears National Monument, hoping to preserve its wildness indefinitely. As we wrap up the day and gaze across the sun-kissed layers of mesa, the beauty of this place remains as breathtaking as my first visit many years ago. Our connection to this place is rooted in cold mornings brewing coffee, days of endless hand jams, and campfire lullabies. Indian Creek is sacred to us.
There is a joy to climbing that is indescribable to someone who has never smeared a dime edge or effortlessly pulled through a daunting crux. Beyond pleasure, climbing can instill a sense of purpose. Why else would you wake up predawn to hike for miles then shiver your way up a rock face? Climbing connects us, not just to our tribe but also to ourselves, our fears and our doubts. It connects us to the land. It teaches us about the fragility of our lives, our bodies and the landscapes in which we play. We dedicate our lives to this craft, not just because we enjoy climbing, but because we believe it makes us better people.
The vertical world teaches us lessons that help us maneuver in the horizontal with more grace and passion. We owe it to ourselves to use what climbing teaches us to preserve the environment in which we climb. I believe it is our duty, and we are well suited to the task. Through the passion, tenacity and community that climbing cultivates in us, we can be more than just lovers of the land, we can be stewards.
I’d been working with Josh to help tell the story of Bears Ears so, naturally, our conversation drifted toward the topic. He asked what it would take to motivate the denizens of Creek Pasture Campground to speak up in defense of the desert’s eternal stillness—oil drilling has been encroaching on this landscape for years, threatening the calm, pristine wildness of the land. I wagered that providing a way to genuinely get their voices heard would amplify the rallying call. So with a campfire, free beer and Josh’s promise to deliver handwritten testimony to the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, I called in the dirtbags to campsite 12 for a letter-writing party.
The tribe gathered and eagerly wrote heartfelt passages about their love for Indian Creek and how it’s derived through climbing. They spoke of its value to recreation, to history and to the soul. They spoke of why that holds more value than any barrel of oil ever could. They wrote with a passion for this place as only climbers could. We are tenacious and relentless in our pursuit. We set lofty goals and try hard to realize them, pushing through grit and fear. We fight through blood, pain, self-doubt and failure to reach the top of a climb for an all-too-quickly lost ethereal feeling of success. If you put the solution to the world’s problems at the top of a beautiful arête, climbers would get it done.
It’s a simplified view, I know. But honestly, climbing can give us power. As climbers, we know that if we apply the same effort that we put into climbing to anything else in life, we will crush it. If we could just high step through adversity, gaston the opposition, side pull around the setbacks and edge our way past defeat, then the hard part would be behind us. We’d get to enjoy the glory hand jams to the top. I like to think we collectively began to work out the beta around the campfire that night, fervently writing letters with bloodied hands, to help protect a place that provides an essential confluence for humanity and nature.
The Bears Ears Coalition is seeking permanent protection for the region as a national monument, and the Obama administration will be making a decision in the next few months. Add your voice in support of protecting Bears Ears today by signing the petition.