Eric Zschiesche


Artist, Boulderer, Barefoot Climber; Ogden, Utah

In the 1994 book Stone Crusade: A Historical Guide to American Bouldering, John Sherman called Eric Zschiesche, 50, one of America’s top boulderers—and one of climbing’s most colorful characters. From teenage solos at Moore’s Wall, North Carolina (before ropes or protection were even in his lexicon), to climbing El Capitan a year and a half later, to soloing the bottom girders of the New River Gorge Bridge, to barefoot 5.13s at Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin, to traveling the country for 10 years carrying nothing but an imitation crocodile suitcase, the legends go on and on. The true Zschiesche is an eccentric, happy-go-lucky artist who completely deconstructs the typical image of the climbing hardman.

From 1978 to '85, I lived the life of the archetypal climbing bum, traveling, climbing, and working enough to keep food in my belly. I had an assortment of short-term jobs: concrete worker, construction laborer, wire-liner in the oil fields, marketing surveyor, agricultural hand, and painting jobs.

Money comes in, money goes out. Beyond our preferences for paid and unpaid actions resides our latent capacities for spiritual, emotional, and intellectual growth.

I probably produce about 50 finished paintings a year, in addition to drawings, original prints, and assorted constructs. I move from works that are close to photo-realism to non-representational abstractions.

Chockcraft is a dance, in and of itself, of hanging in there and getting the right nut for the job. It is quiet. It is thoughtful. It brings one into a strong focus on one’s present environment.

Sometime in the late ’90s, I started on a circuit to see how many of the 5.12 routes on [Devil’s Lake’s] East Bluff I could tweak up barefoot. I’m not sure how many [I did] all told, but it was the vast majority of them. I can remember a couple that eluded me: Bagatelle (5.12c) and Rubberman (5.13a). I did manage to do Ice (5.13b) twice without the rubbers.

Climbing barefoot is to free ourselves to a new and rich sensation.

Far more important than being known-of is how those who know us feel.

To see samples of Zschiesche’s artwork, go to