A Letter-Writing Party to Protect Bears Ears

Matty Van Biene  /  5 Min Read  /  Activism

Photo: Matt Van Biene

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.

Photo: Tommy Caldwell

Josh Ewing on the summit of North Six Shooter. Josh is the Executive Director of Friends of Cedar Mesa and one of the leading voices in the fight to protect Bears Ears. Indian Creek, Utah. Photo: Tommy Caldwell

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.

Photo: Matty Van Biene

Putting pen to paper in defense of Indian Creek, part of the larger Bears Ears region in southeastern Utah. Photo: Matty Van Biene

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.

Photo: Matty Van Biene

Celebrating a day of climbing and activism. Creek Pasture Campground, Utah. Photo: Matty Van Biene

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.

Take Action!

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.

Related Stories

Keepers of a Way of Life: Gwich’in Youth’s Role in Protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
In the Arctic, Gwich’in youth are learning that protecting land means preserving a way of life. On Alaska’s North Slope, where polar bears den and gray wolves howl, protecting the land isn’t about supporting a cause or posting on social media from a protest at city hall. Here, it’s a matter of survival. Jewels Gilbert…
In the Arctic, Gwich’in youth are learning that protecting land means preserving a way of life. On Alaska’s North Slope, where polar bears den and gray wolves howl, protecting the land isn’t about supporting a cause or posting on social media from a protest at city hall. Here, it’s a matter of survival. Jewels Gilbert…
Lisset Fun
10 min Read
Where Life Begins: Patagonia Ambassadors Explore the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
 
Clare Gallagher
5 min Read
A Day at the Yosemite Facelift Cleanup
On an incredibly clear, early autumn morning, the aging Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) van bumped along Tioga Pass Road, taking precariously tight turns at an alarming speed. Twelve of us were crammed in the back, chattering and bracing ourselves against the van’s interior walls. When the road was no longer passable for vehicles, we…
On an incredibly clear, early autumn morning, the aging Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) van bumped along Tioga Pass Road, taking precariously tight turns at an alarming speed. Twelve of us were crammed in the back, chattering and bracing ourselves against the van’s interior walls. When the road was no longer passable for vehicles, we…
Jane Jackson
7 min Read
The Magic of the Desert
The creation of Bears Ears National Monument was something that seemed more inevitable in the summer of 2016. It seems like now it’s one of those things where you’re on one side or the other because after all, I’m writing this book in the Trump years, and no one is getting along or in the…
The creation of Bears Ears National Monument was something that seemed more inevitable in the summer of 2016. It seems like now it’s one of those things where you’re on one side or the other because after all, I’m writing this book in the Trump years, and no one is getting along or in the…
Luke Mehall
5 min Read
Welcome to Gwichyaa Zhee: A Conversation with Co-Director Len Necefer
Indigenous communities across the United States are increasingly confronted with threats to their sovereignty and to the places they rely on for their culture and way of life. Nowhere is this threat felt more than in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A new short film, Welcome to Gwichyaa Zhee, looks at the Gwich’in people’s work to protect…
Indigenous communities across the United States are increasingly confronted with threats to their sovereignty and to the places they rely on for their culture and way of life. Nowhere is this threat felt more than in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A new short film, Welcome to Gwichyaa Zhee, looks at the Gwich’in people’s work to protect…
Madalina Preda
9 min Read
Hey, How’s That Lawsuit Against the President Going?
Glad you asked … and if you aren’t already aware, in December 2017, President Trump issued a proclamation slashing Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, 100 miles to the west of Bears Ears, by half. In an unprecedented response, we joined a coalition of Native American and grassroots groups…
Glad you asked … and if you aren’t already aware, in December 2017, President Trump issued a proclamation slashing Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, 100 miles to the west of Bears Ears, by half. In an unprecedented response, we joined a coalition of Native American and grassroots groups…
Patagonia
4 min Read
The Shutdown Isn’t Over
For 34 days in December and January, the government shutdown not only impaired the livelihoods of 800,000 federal employees, it brought almost the entire federal scientific apparatus to a halt. Worse, there are indicators that the Trump administration willingly took advantage of the shutdown to expedite strategic projects in the oil and gas, mining, and…
For 34 days in December and January, the government shutdown not only impaired the livelihoods of 800,000 federal employees, it brought almost the entire federal scientific apparatus to a halt. Worse, there are indicators that the Trump administration willingly took advantage of the shutdown to expedite strategic projects in the oil and gas, mining, and…
Elliott Woods
10 min Read
Two Grand Canyon Trekkers on Conserving Its Precious Silence
As gorgeous as the Grand Canyon is to look upon, its greatest gifts may not be visual. “On any given evening in summer, but most notably in late June, there comes a moment just after the sun has disappeared behind the rimrock, and just before the darkness has tumbled down the walls, when the bottom…
As gorgeous as the Grand Canyon is to look upon, its greatest gifts may not be visual. “On any given evening in summer, but most notably in late June, there comes a moment just after the sun has disappeared behind the rimrock, and just before the darkness has tumbled down the walls, when the bottom…
Kevin Fedarko & Peter McBride
13 min Read
Popular searches