If you’ve ever lived out of your car, gotten your clothes from a thrift store or gone dumpster diving simply to sustain a life based in the great outdoors, you might be what’s known as a “dirtbag.” It’s a way of living — or, at least a way of climbing for Luke Mehall, a legendary dirtbag who recently penned his sixth book, “The Desert.”
“There are a lot of elements to being a dirtbag — you think you’re roughing it, but it’s actually a privilege to be able to do this,” explained Mehall.
“The Desert” chronicles nearly two decades of dirtbag climbing adventures on America’s public lands, starting with Mehall’s first trip to Indian Creek in 1999. The Western Colorado University alum will kick off a book tour where his passion for writing all started — right here in the Gunnison Valley. Mehall will speak at Western on Thursday, April 25.
While following his passion for first ascents within the book, another transformation is in the works: Bears Ears National Monument is created by the Obama administration and soon dismantled under President Trump.
“I think it’s an important part of America, and it belongs to everyone so we all have that right to enjoy them,” Mehall said of public lands.
As such lands are picked apart, Mehall not only contemplates our national identity but also his own — what is a dirtbag to do?
“I don’t really aspire to be rich,” said Mehall. “And if I was rich I would give money away to people that protect public lands.”
For Mehall, the message is clear — the soul of America is at stake, and as he invents new ways to scale stone, he reaches a state of mind that serves in furthering his own evolution.
An excerpt from “The Desert” indicates as much, as Mehall transcends the act of climbing and simply exists in the now: “The only thing I know is that I entered a state, the state of mind, that a crack climber wants to enter. First it’s painful, and a little scary, then all of a sudden, all that matters is the try, the moment.”
“The Desert” dives into the art of the climb, Mehall’s search for love, and fresh air in the arid paradise that allows him to disconnect from our plugged-in society.
“To be able to go to these areas where cell phones don’t work and just completely unplug for a few days, you realize you don't have to check your Instagram all the time,” said Mehall.
His final book caps the end of an era — at least the dirtbag era. Mehall currently resides in Durango as a self-described small business owner and “professional e-mailer” with a solid roof over his head. Most of his days are spent publishing the Climbing Zine, an independent print publication and website for all things climbing.
While this marks a new chapter for Mehall, he’s looking forward to taking the time to explore other genres and artistic endeavors, such as fiction writing. Don’t worry — he’s still off to the desert climbing (in fact, he was en route to the Colorado Plateau when interviewed via phone for this story).
On top of reading excerpts from “The Desert” during his stop through Gunnison as part of the book tour, Mehall also will be accompanied by a few of the friends from his adventures to tell their side of the story.
“Gunnison changed my life, it’s where my writing started and where I fell in love with climbing,” he said.
While he’s not living the dirtbag lifestyle anymore, the outdoors are still a critical component to the survival of his soul.
“We’re all animals, and we’re meant to be outside,” said Mehall. “That’s when I’m the happiest is when I’m outside.”
(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or email@example.com .)