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When it rained in the hot months the ground steamed and Texas brown tarantulas swarmed out of their burrows in such numbers they looked like special effects. Donnie and I, eyes peeled, pushed through the waist-high prairie grass and black-jack branches that tore our backs like hay hooks, careful not to startle the rattlesnakes, steering wide of the buffalo, snorting and hooving at the ground, their curly beards abuzz with flies.
The Wichita Mountains were granite anomalies in the otherwise shapeless southwestern Oklahoma where Donnie and I learned to climb in the mid 1970s. We explored the cliffs and crags for several years before we saw another climber, so we had to learn the ropes on our own. We gleaned information—knots and protection and belaying—from magazine articles and pictures, carrying crumpled copies of Climbing and Mariah in our packs. When we were stumped, we’d whip out the mags for further study.
Those magazines were more than learning material; they were our only inspiration and we needed a lot given where we were—for hundreds of miles in all directions the wind had swept the land clean as a church floor. John Long’s article “Pumping Sandstone” in Climbing, was especially motivational. In 1977 John had road-tripped to Colorado to try John Gill’s masterful Pinch Overhang, Juggernaut and Ripper Traverse.
“If one could harness the torque involved in crossing the Ripper,” he wrote, “he-she could conceivably turn coal into shining gems.”
In 1979 Mariah rebranded itself as Outside and one of the first issues off the press, volume four, was solid gold. This one had Doug Robinson’s “Grand Sieges and Fast Attacks,” about his ascent of El Cap’s Nose, freeing the Stovelegs and giving due to Royal Robbins, Warren Harding, Chuck Pratt, and Yvon Chouinard. That article revealed that climbing was more than an activity.
“Climbing,” Doug wrote, “was the only thing that made sense of our lives.”
Mom wouldn’t say that John and Doug were the best influences: I soon dropped out of school to climb basically forever. Every free moment and even some moments we had to make free, Donnie and I climbed in the Wichitas. The crags along Cache Creek, northwest of Geronimo’s grave and about two miles downstream from the last Comanche chief Quannah Parker’s “Star House,” kept us transfixed. We’d climb, rest in the shade and skip rocks across the still waters below Ker Plunk and watch the perch scatter.
Five decades into climbing I can’t remember not having climbed. I’ve been lucky along the way, getting to work with Doug Robinson and John Long, and just about everyone else who has written anything about the vertical stuff.
The circle—at least for me—closed even more when, this February, Pocket Outdoor Media, the mothership of Climbing, acquired Outside magazine. Climbing and Outside can together deliver the same stoke and steam as they did to Donnie and me, and you don’t have to scrap around to find them. Join us at Outside+ and you can get Outside plus Climbing. Sign up and you can also access rockandice.com and peruse our archives of over 3,000 stories including ones by John Long, Royal Robbins, Doug Robinson, Jeff Jackson and literally anyone else you’d ever want to read about or from. Even that mountain rat Fred Beckey is in there. His tale of making the second ascent of Mount Waddington in 1942 when he and his brother Helmut were too young to shave, ranks as one of alpinism’s classics. Read that one and you’ll drop everything to get your life sorted in the vertical. Just don’t tell Mom who sent you.
But wait, as they say, there’s more! As part of Outside+ you can pick to receive one of a dozen other magazines, such as Backpacker and SKI and, because we don’t want you to wander in circles looking for the crag, you can use the app Gaia GPS Premium and download maps straight to your device, a priceless feature when you are out of range and getting to the climb isn’t just an objective, it’s your life.