Tall TalesAn exclusive, online only, collection of climbing fiction compiled by Amanda Fox and the Climbing Magazine Team. To have your work in this department please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
A Strange Occurrence on Mount ZirkelBy Richard F. Fleck - As close to Wyoming as could be,I rambled through the Park Rangeforests at the base of Mount Zirkeland began to climb some rocky ledgesuntil the pines began to thin and I pausedto stare into the limitless rolling plains ofthe big North Park fringed with snowyNever Summer peaks to the cloudy east.Hagues Peak - A Case of Altitude SicknessBy Richard F. Fleck - Only twice in fifty years have I come downwith altitude sickness, once in the Wind Riversand once here on the flanks of Hagues PeakA bit after we peered far down to Crystal Lakeand a little before our final scrambleup the last three hundred feet. Perhaps I hadn’teaten quite enough at breakfast or perhaps itwas coming across a dead Clark’s Nutcrackerflat on a rock, but my head began to pound ...A Snowy Night in Northern MontanaBy Richard F. Fleck - On a very snowy night camped at MacDonald Lake,we shiver in our sagging tent as winds snap aspenbranches overhead and we wonder just why we choseearly June and not July to camp in Glacier Park whereearly summer is nothing more than a late-winter.EL QUENTO de la CHEWYThe Story of Chewie Part Three - Crossing The Border with his gringo sidekicks and Meztiso compais -By David Sweetland - I began this rock climber saga on the dirt road heading into El Gran Trono Blanco, the Baja, California, big wall, a trip I took with my closest friends many years ago. We did a grade V but needed the help of a local - Chewie - to both get us to the Great White Throne, and then up the route (Chewbacca is a fine alpinist).Three Front Range HaikuBy Richard F. Fleck - Twin Sisters - Through golden aspenWe climb to top to see highGray block of Longs Peak.Squaw Peak - Winding past lodgepoles,We quickly ascend loose slabsTo summit in space. Devil’s Head - We slip on dark iceIn slanting woods until stepsTake us up highest ridge.View from Togwotee PassBy Richard F. Fleck - Thereyou standand stare but yourmind cannot even startto decipher what raw visionreveals. Huge slabs of graniteprotrude like fingers poking the skythrough layers of snow so high in space,so high above the sagebrush and glacial kettle holesand larger blue lakes sparkling in sun reflecting upside-down images giving your mind twice as much to absorb.At First LightCody hiked up the trail that circumnavigated the basalt quarry. He hiked in the dark of the early August morning, rope and gear stowed in his backpack. The creosote steps were far apart, built too tall by city volunteers, and Cody pushed down on the tops of his knees to help his quad muscles as he lurched up the oversized staircase.Snowy Range SundownBy Richard F. Fleck - Nothing better than to beWalking a trail above the treesAnd looking out across the wayTo distant mountains and otherNorthern snow-patched peaksAt the end of the dayWhen an orange-gold sunSinks beneath the tundraA Medicine Bow Peak RitualBy Richard F. Fleck - Each Labor Day for ten years straightmy family and I would climb to the skyfrom Lewis Lake following a windingtrail through patches of willows hidinggurgling streams with clear and icy waterfeeding roots of marsh marigolds andpatches of bright and shining glacier lilies.Heavy Summer Snow Atop the San Francisco PeaksBy Richard F. Fleck - Two German climbers signed out onthe log writing that the snow was toodeep and they finally had to turn around.“But that was yesterday,” remarked one ofmy friends as we shouldered our packshit the trail where we rapidly gained aview of the entire Snow Bowl with lessercrests of the ancient volcano comprisingthe sacred San Francisco Peaks that roseforever skyward in glistening whiteness.Deep Down the Kaibab TrailBy Richard F. Fleck - Deep within the spruce and fir,I make my camp along the North Rim,but before I eat my supper, I walkover to the nighttime edge of theGrand Canyon to peer three or fourthousand feet down to see a tinyflickering campfire way below thatwill lure me down very early the nextday from a chilly forty degrees intoheat of mid-summer and then some—from Canadian forest to Mexicandesert with shoulder-high prickly pearsand Spanish bayonetsCROSSING THE LINE - The Mexican Guide - Part 2By Preston Tierradulce - Climbing isn't always about the crux, sometimes it is about the journey. At Lovers Leap, a Northern California crag, that trad climbers paradise, The Line is a three pitch 5.9 masterpiece. Steep, thin, often a first lead a testpiece of confidence for the apprentice - it's all technique, no technology here will save your ass. Or the first lead could be a noviates nightmare. At the U.S. Mexico Border, we climbed across The Line one night knowing we could be arrested.Arizona HighBy Richard F. Fleck - Thin gray cirrus cloudsstreak the sky as we amblethrough a meadow of purplelupine and black-eyed susanswith dark and pyramidicHumphreys Peak risingupward another 3000 feet.We enter sweet pine forestfloors springing forth withmushrooms of every shapeand color, white columbinesand purple penstemon.Atop Kings PeakBy Richard F. Fleck - Once on the summitof King’s Peak, highestin Utah, we noticea scarcity of flowersbut a richness in diversityof rocks from granitesto shales to quartzitesand sandstones, all ofreddish-brown hue.Haystack RambleBy Richard F. Fleck - From Geyser Pass through the woods,we emerge into a bright green meadowcovered with all sorts of alpine flowershigh in the La Sal Mountains of Utah.We rest just beneath the rocky slabsof Haystack Peak and search the tundrafor rayless daisies that are known to growThe George Washington Chronicles - Part I: The Colonial YearsGeorge Washington and the cherry tree is first presidential mythology. Fiction and fabrication. But the Revolutionary War stories, the Potomac, well, those are as true as Indian Creek Splitters. Ole George had quite a life. He worked as a surveyor at 17, inherited Mount Vernon at 20, and married Martha Dandridge Custis (a widow and a few months older) at age 26. Together they cultivated hemp and tobacco. They built a political career. They managed the affairs of their plantation. But - a little known fact - they were also gym rats.A Mellethin SunriseBy Richard F. Fleck - I crawl out of my sleeping bagat Geyser Pass high in the La Salsjust before sunrise to walk out intothe meadow and look across atMellenthin Mountain, dark and gray,but with a tinge of light near itssummit, and as the sun rises,the mountain’s north face turnsinto a fancy’s show box withTHE MEXICAN GUIDE at EL GRAN TRONO BLANCO By Preston Tierradulce - If you want a climbing article, a pitch-by-pitch travelogue on this secluded place, this story ain't for you. I'd rather tell a saga of our encounter out there, with a saint of a man on this rugged section of Baja. This piece is a review of a fellow who jumped out of the chaparral and helped us survive. This tall tale is a tribute to our friend who taught us the meaning of a simple Spanish word that few north of the border really appreciate or understand: simpático.Grandmother Spider MountainBy Richard F. Fleck - Early in the morning we walk upwardsthrough a slanted forest of aspen and firand take delight in seeing a blue bird flutterin open meadows quite soft underfoot.We approach grassy hummocks remindingme of ever-so-green Ireland along the Irish Sea.A Close Encounter in the ManzanosBy Richard F. Fleck - The sky remains cobalt blueand the pines barely whisperas I amble along the crestof the Manzanos overlookingAlbuquerque’s tiny city streets, but I suddenly stop in my trackswhen I almost stumble acrossa crude grave of cottonwoodbranches twisted into a circle
Turning Around on the Chisos Mountain TrailBy Richard F. Fleck - Through berried junipers and dryScrub oak, we amble along a steadilyUpward trail toward much higherPinnacles with gliding ravens hoarselySquawking like spirits of the mountainsOverlooking agave, prickly pear andYucca about to bloom, and from theBranches of pinon pines comes aSprite-liken cheeping of white-breastedNuthatches as volcanic Casa GrandeDarkens in an approaching storm.Ocotillo SundownBy Richard F. Fleck - We stand in the desert and stare atthe Chisos Mountains reddeningin silence, each little rocky cragand slit given emphasis withnearby prickly pears brilliantly lit,but perhaps the most striking thingproves to be the way the setting sunilluminates spiked ocotillo plantswith tiny red buds looking much likespirits emerging from thorny shellssilhouetted by such ghostly mountains.BUMMING IT WITH GARY HEMMINGWhen I started up the mountain as a twenty year old college student, I had no idea what dangers, toils, ("adventure" definition: to arrive, I am still arriving), and fantastic trips I would grasp hold of. I have a huge imagination, even back then in the 1970's I was prone to both level headed logic and ideas of grandeur that went half way up Nanda Devi, or in my case El Capitan. This sense of awe and wanting to be in these awesome environs propelled me up.BUDDHA's CAVE in KINGMAN ARIZONAClose your eyes. Can you picture Joshua Tree in the 1970's, before John Long and the Stonemasters moved in and scooped up many of the first accents? No traffic back then, just virgin rock. I'm nursing a hernia as I write this story. My elbow hurts and my two-wheeled aluminum mule is about to throw a shoe. Que lastima. I am in a world of hurt, temporarily camped out in Kingman, Arizona, elevation 3,300 feet, Memorial Day Weekend.The Hillary StepRising sheer and forbidding, from a razor traverse that vanishes, like nerve, on the precipice; a drab rib of ancient sea floor, elevated, as if by destiny, in the grinding ascension of tectonic crust, to paramount significance - Mount Everest’s final impediment, protector of the crown - reserved, on the apex of earth, in the glorious panorama of the Himalaya massif on a clear day, for a gentleman of undaunted disposition, who perceives before him not the nemesis of mortal obsession, but instead, a possible way up.Electric PeakBy Richard F. Fleck - I cannot resist staringat distant Electric Peakfrom the top of Mount Washburnas I am drawn to its dazzling whitesnowfields attracting stands of cloudsno doubt the build-up of a summer thunderstormsuch as the one Henry Gannett felt in 1872 when hisentire body painfully tingledThe ClimbFebruary 2009 - Three-fourths of the way through, she took a moment to take in her surroundings. It was before sunrise, so the early morning looked like a night sky taken from the pages of a storybook’s illustrations. Her dizziness made it feel like they were in a cave, but she could see each and every glossy star against the black curtain of a sky.Spider RockBy Richard F. Fleck - With what intensity theAnasazi must have hadwhen they looked straightup from their ancient dwellingsastride the base of Spider Rockrising eight hundred feetin massive redness abovethe valley floor in themidst of Canyon de Chelly.Meditations at 10,000 feetBy Richard F. Fleck - I slowly amble toward the Beartooth Range looming above ten thousand feet and gaze at gray gigantic granitic upliftscarved with glaciated and snowy cirques,when I begin to feel a kind of syncline elevating my mind ever upwards to the highest summit bearing the name of Granite Peak that rises to 12,799 feetSoloI remember like it was yesterday, or a couple weeks ago anyway.Standing there looking up, the mountain staring back like a master to his pup.Fully equipped but still so scared, of what lie ahead of me and why I dared.To climb this cliff side up to its peak, and claim the reward I was there to seek.Snake Bit at Turkey TankTurkey Tank, near Flagstaff, Arizona, is one of the primo bouldering / trad top rope spots to be seen, touched, or tasted, at least in my limited travels across America. I have moved over stone since the mid 1970's, I've been from a sweet spot to learn this game at Cosumnes River Gorge outside Placerville, California, to, a little further down the road Sacramento's or Roseville's Deer Park.We are lizard people... moving over stoneI'd been living in Flagstaff, Arizona, at the edge of the Navajo Reservation, on the road to Hopiland. A great bouldering spot - Turkey Tank - is in range of my two-wheel aluminum mule. On the basalt walls of this canyon are many petroglyphs, some are snakes, others are lizards. Hopi and Anasazi symbols. Important links to Mother Earth.Alien on the RocksThe desert wind is howling. The zephyr is dry as the sand beneath my pedals. I'm riding my bike west across the Arizona outback starting a solo journey. The invisible hand pushing against me is my first real task. The wind makes my skin prickle, it wraps around me like a bear hug. Mile after lonely mile, I get a chance to think a lot. The Climbing Personality and Proficiency Exam for Potential PartnersBy Elijah Merrill - Let’s face it: we, the intelligent beings that we are, are relying more and more on tests to make decisions for us. We seek guidance for just about every aspect of our life, which means two things: it is either a reflection of our species's confidence in our decision making abilities, or it may just be that we’re too damn lazy ...MY CLIMBING STUDENT, A DUMB ASS OF A HORSEBy David Sweetland - Call him youth-at-risk, juvenile delinquent, mad, malcontent, morose, a kid with ADHD or maybe a touch of autism? Dyslexic? Poly addicted. Addicted to Poly. I was once hooked to Susan. Usually what is connected with addiction in psychotherapeutic lingo is co-dependency and rescuing.The CruxA Short Story by Steve Quinn - As she awoke she heard the sound of the ocean, and then felt the tepid water that filled her boots and the rough sand against her knees and elbows. Lacing sandy fingers across her face she carefully opened her eyes to brilliant sunshine. The first thing was that she was on a beach of incredibly white sand, turquoise water lapping at her legs ...In Defiance of "The Edge"Story and photos by “Alpinista Hombre” (Aaron McAdams) - The mountain climber achieves a momentous feat and bellows, “Conquest at last!” A great moment of satisfaction has been achieved. Returning to camp from a great adrenal blitz, the climber moves to celebrate the day and looks back at the mountain with new admiration ...Guadalupe Peak - High Above the MesquiteBy Richard F. Fleck - Our trail ascends the way past waxy leavesof Madrone trees with smooth and reddish trunks and on up past some blooming chollain a cold March wind, and higher toward alimestone ledge washed with desert varnish looming above a pinon forest lending voice to the constant gusty winds of western Texas.NON CLIMBING in the SOUTHWESTBy David Sweetland - A road trip is a good initial experience with the southwest. With Tony and Terrence, in about 1976, winter, we left from Sacramento, California. First stop Ogden, Utah, to see an old girl friend (not geriatric). Then some ice climbing in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Onto Zion and the beginning of our non climbing in the southwest — the four corners where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona meet. We knew — read — Pratt and Abbey as gurus and followed their lead.Keeping Up With Mini While Climbing Mount WheelerBy Richard F. Fleck - We camped in Taos Valley on a coldSeptember night while Mini, my blondcocker spaniel, danced around the tentas we tried to get some needed sleepbefore our tiring climb of Wheeler Peak.
Watermelon PeakBy Richard F. Fleck - On a pleasantly warm February day downAlbuquerque way where plum blossomsscent the air, I look through my window at Sandia Crest sprinkled with a freshmorning layer of sugar snow and I know I must arise and go to the mountain's edge where prickly pear cactus and yuccas grow.Old #5 - A Love StoryBy Kurt Krueger - Illustrations by Judy Parenlo I started out belonging to a young, romantic white liberal (read that idealistic) college guy. His boots told me he had been climbing four times. They weren't too impressive, well broken in from walking, but the edges were rounded from feet flying off small footholds. The guy obviously used a lot of arms.The Last Cowboy SongBy Volker K.S. Dankmeyer - I stared at the broken ice axe lying among the rocks at my feet. A shattered wooden hilt and rusted pick gave a sudden eeriness to this landscape as a shiver shook my body. A few worn leather straps and the remains of a crampon ...Specimen MountainBy Richard F. Fleck - In my ranger days, it was my dutyto lead a group of ten or twelvestraight up the slopes of volcanic Specimen Mountain above Milner Pass.Front on, Fronters - An Outsider's Season in RifleBy Jake Hjorten - Okay, yes, I get it. You climb 5.13, probably 5.14. You're sick strong. You can get a knee bar rest everywhere with a fancy rubbery, glued, duct-taped kneepad. BOLT RUN, my roadside attraction: Trout Fishing in the NudeBy D.S. AKA Preston Tierra - This article is NC 17!Bolt Run, my roadside attraction, is a 5.10d (some say 5.11) sport route at old Donner Summit, California, near paleolithic Lake Tahoe. Right on the old highway, hence the name, below the old bridge built in 1926, that 1950's Olympic skier Mad Dog Dick used to fly his plane under then do barrel rolls over ancient Lake Donner ...Laramie PeakBy Richard F. Fleck - Bouncing along in a jeeptoward distant Laramie Peakon the high plains of Wyoming,I think I must be some sortof charging bison stampededby my own desire to climba mountain of such a perfectpyramid shape standingso purple on the horizon.The Olde DaysBy Jarrett Tishmack - Now climbing in my time was a far stretch from today Wooden shoes, chain mail helmets and ropes made of hay And now that I'm old; my bones to brittle to climb I can't help but reminisce of that long ago time.Beowulf: Tobin Sorenson, older you, and meBy David Sweetland - History has a bad habit of being ignored. I write this essay in my fiftieth year, after seeing the movie, Beowulf, and rereading the great tome that was written about fifteen-hundred years ago. In my youth — 1970's — to touch stone was to fight dragons, a need only a fiend could tell. I had the skill, psych, and spirit to go the heights (and I did!). I never wanted to be great. A Winter's Climb of Mount ChapinBy Richard F. Fleck - In the summer Mount Chapinisn't much of a climb beingonly over twelve thousand feet,but in the winter, it's quite anothermatter with winds so fiercethat tree-line pines are givena screeching voice ...The Brocken Spectre atop Longs PeakBy Richard F. Fleck - We all look up at an eclipsingmoon high in the sky as weapproach the dark North Facein very crisp air of three a.m.Way toward Wyoming, streaksof Northern Lights shimmerwhile we inch our way tothe summit over icy granite.Brocken Spectre Atop Mount FujiBy Richard F. Fleck - At sunrise we push onward above the ninth station toward the summit as layers of cloud fill the tea-leaved valley floor while a ball of sun slowly peeks over the Pacific rim illuminating bright red Buddhist torii until we reach the very top7-Month-old sends Flagstaff V7October, 2007 — Infant Ella Roseborrough of Flagstaff, Arizona (age 7 months) sent the Priest Draw classic Anorexic (V7) on her 4th try. Her proud parents were there to offer moral support, Beta and to provide a spot.Herded by Sheep off Jicarita PeakBy Richard F. Fleck - We rested at Santa Barbara Passand proceeded up a faint little pathtoward the high, round summit ofJicarita Peak with haunting viewsinto the very streets of Taos andmountains far beyond until wesensed the presence of two bighornsheep with spiraling horns ...Rock-holed Sky of Earthborn SpiritsBy Richard F. Fleck - Circumnavigating Vedauwoowhere calls of ravens echo,I look up at towering rockswith holes exposing azure skyin a strong sun yet with atinge of autumn as quakingaspen trees tremble with eachbreeze that combs through fieldsof green sageThe Return - A poem for JC LafailleBy Piotr Packowski - One winter's dawn, a man alone, awakensAnd, sees, A clearing in the morning skyAnd, decidesTo climb into the clouds.This morning everything is happening for the first time:The wind relents, the stars scintillate and disappearInto the morning mist.Roped to the SkyRichard F. Fleck - Massive bear-clawedcolumns rise intothe sky pepperedwith roped climbersworking their wayever upward someeight hundred feetabove lodgepole pineslaced with prayerflags fluttering ina spirit wind. Lunar Eclipse on Mount WashburnBy Richard F. Fleck - On the flanks of Mount Washburn,high above most of Yellowstone,we watch an eclipse of the moonas it slowly darkens to brownexcept for one glaring rimin the chilly air of five a.m.Lost on Mount IdaBy Richard F. Fleck - It seems to come from nowhere, or so I think, as I gain the alpine tundra high. Thrashing lightning and rolling thunderturn the sky into rockets and mortars.No longer can I enjoy the forget-me-notsand Parry primroses combed with wind.Excerpt from the novel The Big G: The Spanish Prisonerby Sean Toren - "Gravity—the Big G!” sang Dade, still twenty yards ahead of me on the path around Devil's Tower. He was doing a bad job with the James Brown song, but he continued anyway, “On the third planet from the sun, I’ve been trying to get the funky job done…."
The PursuitWill you tell me, oh climber, of ascentsamong the nations? Of your catharsisrevolution enacted upon the soul?Will you send a sign of greatness,and hang it high upon a pole?Can you climb into your beingand fill that longing with dirt and dust and chalk?Preacher ManBy Peter de Lennoy - I lashed myself to the summit of the Needles Eye and glanced at the sky. Dark clouds swirled and spun. A mighty wall of wind and water surged toward us like a rogue wave. I pulled up the rope and shouted.Vivre la difference!By Andy Cloquet - The name Khyber is unique in UK climbing. It now holds an unassailable position across both sexes in mountaineering’s Who’s Who. You will remember Mark Khyber but do you know that the media-heroine, Chrissy, is also a Khyber?DragonflyBy Sean Toren - Bruno imagines himself an insect as he swings through the door at Mountain Hut, an insect that can hunt and gather and consume, though he's not sure if he should be a honeybee or a red ant today.A SAAB Story - Of mice and KarmaBy Majka Burhardt - The longest road trip I’ve ever taken was in a two-door 1983 blue Saab 900. It was a fussy, impractical little automobile. The sunroof leaked, and the clutch stuck between fourth and fifth gears. Going for Broke: An (Ir)Rational Pursuit of Every Climber's DreamBy Majka Burhardt - It’s 7:30 a.m. and you’re at the parking lot of your local crag. Today you plan to finally get on the choice route on the cliff. You’ve been waiting for two months to do this climb, and the perfect finger crack is a siren beckoning to you again and again. Now you’re finally heeding her call.La Petite Epic - Learning the ropes, French styleBy Majka Burhardt - It all began with an overhanging limestone pocket at Wild Iris. Actually there were two of them, and, due to their distance apart and the lack of other features surrounding them, I was supposed to be holding onto one and heel hooking in the other. Finding Your Better Half - The search for the perfect (rope) mateBy Majka Burhardt - You wake up to your alarm at 6:30 a.m. Your dog hears the buzzer and jumps in bed to make his wet nose your second reminder. You have a date today — this morning, in fact. At 7:45 you are meeting a new climbing partner at the local coffee shop and you don’t want to be late. The Devil wears white vinylBy Dave Sheldon - Despite this guidebook warning and the setting sun, down I went, dehydrated, hungry, and with a full haulbag and portaledge on my back.Drawing fireby Matt Samet - While many rave about the quality of the limestone bouldering in this small defile near Flagstaff, Arizona, I never got close enough to the rock to find out.