Dear readers, reviewers, promoters, podcasters, reporters, editors, bloggers, and anyone else interested in climbing and the great outdoors,
Once upon a time, I felt the surge of inspiration to put words onto paper. I don’t remember many moments of my youth; like most of us, I have a selective memory—but I remember this one so intimately and so fondly. I am sure that religious people have had similar occurences. I felt the energy of a poem writing itself. I felt a holy spirit. I was a student at what was then called Western State College of Colorado in Gunnison. I had just finished an Environmental Studies class with one of my all-time-favorite teachers, Shelley Read. Ever since that moment, I’ve been chasing that feeling, and sometimes it chases me.
For twenty years, I’ve been writing this specific genre: a hybrid of beatnik and dirtbag storytelling. Maybe a dash of slam poetry, hippie, and hip-hop in there too. Though that number of twenty years seems impossible, I checked the calendar, and it’s true. In the blink of an eye, I went from a complete novice that didn’t even know how to make instant oatmeal, to and old, crusty guy who is telling the kids how it used to be.
How it used to be is never how it was. The golden age always seems to be at hand in rock climbing, perhaps because it’s so young, at least in the form of recreation. The more I climb, the more I realize humans have been rock climbers for eons. First they did it for survival; now we do it for the survival of our souls.
After these twenty years, I’ve got one last offering for my writing of “dirtbag climbing books.” The book, The Desert, is the fifth and the final one in this style. Why the last of the genre from yours truly? Well, to put it simply, I’m no longer a dirtbag. I no longer live out of my vehicle, nor live hand to mouth. Plus, I want to try to write from new perspectives. But first, one last dirtbag book: The Desert.
The Desert begins with Mehall’s first trip to The Desert, a visit to Indian Creek in 1999, and chronicles nearly two decades of experiences. Over time, the author grows from thinking that the red-rock desert of the Colorado Plateau is just another stop along the way, to finding himself more and more at home there.
Ultimately, the author’s passion for first ascents with his best friends fuels his desire to get to know the area in an intimate way. At the same time that this transformation occurs, the Bears Ears National Monument is created by the Obama administration and then ultimately dismantled by the Trump administration. While the final decision by the courts is awaited, Mehall contemplates the importance of public lands for the soul of America. He also pulls no punches with his thoughts on Trump’s decision.
The Desert is a definitive, independently published account of a dirtbag climber searching for love, passion, fresh air, and an escape from the electronic hyperconnectedness of the modern world.
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“I don’t know if Luke Mehall is aging gracefully, but his prose in The Desert has gained a spirit and command pushed on by a desperation that someone, anyone will understand how important the desert is to the consciousness and conscience of the American West. Mehall’s generation may be the last to find the desert as we remember: open, wild, and free. And while the stories in The Desert are deep, soulful, and often inspirational, the subtle keening for a future lost may be what draws the reader the most.”
—Chris Kalous, The Enormocast
“Luke Mehall takes climbing literature to a whole new level. His writing is not only illuminating but incredibly timeless. His words crackle with excitement and disperse thin slices of happiness like few authors can do.”
—Kathy Karlo, For the Love of Climbing
“Luke Mehall carries on in the tradition of the beatniks and the likes of Jack Kerouac. It’s an all-American story about seeking out the adventure and dharma of the road, the endlessly changing horizon, and then finding yourself not stuck but rooted into a place that was going to just be one stop along a broad highway of adventure. And in that exploration of a place that captured his soul, Luke is forced to reckon with the pain and pleasure of public lands, a political landscape in great flux, and what that means to a dirtbag climber. But when the place where you can get away from it all becomes threatened—you’ve got to come back into the rest of the big, messed-up world and argue for change.
“My only hope is that Luke never stops writing, even though this book is claimed to be the pent and penultimate of his dirtbag series. It’s a fitting cap to his other books and should only launch him out more firmly in the next direction, where just like his many first ascents in Indian Creek, this should take him to new and dizzying heights.”
—Stacy Bare, Adventure Not War
“I started climbing during a time when people traveled and lived to climb. They scraped together anything they could and lived out of cars, trucks, tents, or vans. Climbing was not only a lifestyle for them but also a purpose for life. With the popularity of climbing skyrocketing, a lot of this soul has been diluted or lost. Luke does an incredible job of capturing the essence of why so many of us climb, why so many of us devote our lives to this sport and lifestyle. It’s these people that are the lifers, that keep the soul and character alive.”
—Beth Rodden, climbing legend
“Luke Mehall is my favorite climbing writer of the last decade.”
—Tom Randall, Wide Boyz
“Luke Mehall is one of the few adventure writers out there who handles the tricky first-person voice as if it were made for him.”
—John Long, The Stonemasters
“Who’s more in tune with the ethos of the dirtbag—and more able to write passionately and honestly about it—than Luke Mehall? I think no one.”
—Brendan Leonard, Semi-Rad
“Luke Mehall brings the abstract realm of personal transformation back down to Earth.”
—Georgie Abel, Go West, Young Woman
“Mehall could be the Kerouac of his generation.”
—George Sibley, Dragons in Paradise
Luke Mehall lives in Durango, Colorado. He is the publisher of The Climbing Zine, an independent print publication and website, and he is the author of American Climber, Graduating From College Me, The Great American Dirtbags, and Climbing Out of Bed. He has been published in the Alpinist, Rock and Ice, and Patagonia’s blog, The Cleanest Line. He has also appeared on the Enormocast and Dirtbag Diaries podcasts. In 2017, his mustache was named the best of Indian Creek.