Coronavirus. Climbing. Unprecedented. Times.
In his editor’s note to the July 2020 issue, Francis Sanzaro reckons with what it means to be a climber—and to put together a magazine about climbing—during the coronavirus pandemic when climbing around the globe came to a standstill.
It’s not cancer.
I’m having an affair.
We’d like to offer you the job.
Certain words, at certain times, carry added weight, which, as a writer, you’d think I know, which I do, but I too need to be reminded.
And so it was when two weeks ago my 7-year-old son blurted out, “Dad, I miss climbing,” as if he had plucked the words right out of the grocery-store air.
We were at City Market, which felt like Disneyland to our locked-down, sensate- deprived minds—all the people and colorful things to look at!!—and I happened at that second to be re-shelving a six-pack of Corona, the beer, back into the cold case. With a name like that, the hell if I was going to risk my life on some alcohol.
I stopped at an assortment of pepperoni packets, and peered down at Frankie; a brown leaf in his hair, one sock on his left foot and five pieces of Bubblelicious in his mouth, him chomping like a goat.
I asked him to repeat. Hearing those four words, in that order, wasn’t something I was accustomed to. It had been six weeks since we had climbed anything—gym, rock or park tree included.
I leaned in to relish what I thought was coming.
“I miss climbing.”
I pulled out the camera in the back of all parents’ minds, and snapped it: me, him, the words. The meta-data of the pic would read: Frankie Sanzaro IV, April 23, 2020, wanted to climb. The parent had been waiting for this day since the moment he was born.
I patted him on the back and pulled the leaf from his hair. “Soon, my man, soon.”
Pundits and politicians keep insisting that every aspect of life will be altered by this pandemic. But if you are an adherent to chaos theory, you already know that even the smallest thing, say, the flap of a butterfly’s wings, has global consequences. I believe that to be the case. I also believe that the larger the flap, the greater the consequence.
Slowly, the coronavirus put China in a headlock. It started with headlines, alerts and what seemed, at the time, to be draconian lockdowns in Wuhan province. Then Italy got clobbered, all while Boris Johnson, U.K.’s Prime Minister, procrastinated. As if moving on celestial trade winds, the virus docked at Lady Liberty, and New York fell to its knees. Thousands died. Soon enough, state and national parks, restaurants, gyms and rec areas became off limits in my area.
If the decree was not official, it slowly dawned onto climbers’ minds that joining hundreds of other rock-starved individuals in Bishop or the Red River Gorge wasn’t a good idea. Those pics of over hundreds of cars in Bishop were rock climbing’s version of that Everest photo with dozens of mountaineers in queue for their summit bid. We even made national news, which I will summarize as “selfish rock climbers still flocking to small towns despite nation-wide lockdown and the pleas of said small towns to not come.”
Then, en masse, we all binge watched “Tiger King” and started hangboarding and tweaking our A2 pulleys just in time for the soft-opening of our crags, which, as of this writing, is being rolled out in Colorado.
So, what is a climbing mag to do when no one is climbing?
That’s what you were not thinking about. But we were.
Turns out when no one is climbing is an excellent time to tell stories, and the best climbing stories aren’t only about climbing.
For this issue, we’ve told stories that about climbing and not climbing. Starting with tomatoes, Niall Grimes’s “The Badge,” p.30, will have you laughing out loud during an average romp on the gritstone. Grimer is in his prime. In “Project Wait,” p. 22, Jeff Jackson muses on the lessons and frustrations garnered from decades of projecting, sprinkling in some Buddhist philosophy for good measure. And just when you think you had it rough, try living in a tent with two teenage daughters, under the threat of deadly floods and wildfires, only to be topped off with a pandemic—in “A Plague on the House,” p. 60, Julian Saunders takes us there.
For his part, Ben Tibbetts, IFMGA guide and artist, took the time off and made beautiful drawings and wrote about the quarantine at the center of the climbing universe—Chamonix. See “Art of the Lockdown,” p. 48. And when the quarantine ends and you are frothing to get back on the stone, heed Pete Whittaker’s advice in “Calculated Risk,” p. 66, a guide to analyzing danger, harm and risk—a lesson for climbers of all levels.
Last, some people have had the odds so stacked against them that becoming a climber was unlikely. Such was the case for Maricela Rosales, who fell in love with the sport despite growing up in a tough L.A. neighborhood. But become a climber she did. Rosales’s determination, resolve and fight are likely greater than yours—I know it is greater than mine. Charlie Lieu’s profile of Rosales reminds us that beneath the shiny new gear, Instagram stories and ticklists climbing is a passion, even a life’s calling. And it’s so, so fun. We’re lucky to have found it.
When life returns to “normal,” whatever that means, I will look back on this time as unique, boring, difficult, trying, meditative, frustrating—all at once and in that order— but four small words will bridge those immemorable months the way a bridge spans a murky river. “Dad, I miss climbing.”
Lastly, I’d like to thank our print subscribers, whom are helping us weather the current economic storm. The website is free and filled with good stuff, but remember that our print features, from writers and climbers as diverse as John Long, Conrad Anker and Thomas Huber, do not make it online. So, it’s time to ante up and get a year subscription of the world’s best climbing literature for the same cost as that overpriced burger and two pints of craft beer from last weekend. Subscribe HERE would ya.
Empath climbs tufa-like granite in Tahoe, California.read more
Herbert set a new speed record on the Muir Wall with two of the best big-wall climbers of the day, Brandon Adams and Roger Putnam.read more