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The Making of UNEARTHED

The sand was everywhere. Red, silty, and windblown into every crevice of everything. But as gritty as it felt against our dry, dusted skin, we were psyched to be there.

Matt Segal, Alex Honnold, and I have spent many years cutting our teeth climbing the parallel cracked cliffs and towers surrounding the Canyonlands of Utah. Even though we were exploring new parts of Canyonlands by floating down the Green River and tapping into the endless first ascent potential, it felt like home. Daniel Woods, on the other hand, was a fish out of water in this dry alien landscape. For him, standing at the base of a 500-foot ‘splitter’ crack was like being on the surface of Mars. Although Daniel is one of the strongest competition and boulder climbers in the world, this type of ‘trad’ climbing was a completely different, counter-intuitive, and painful type of climbing to learn.  But he had the best of teachers. Alex and Matt have certainly put their time, passion, and energy into the most difficult desert cracks in the desert. I knew it was going to be a great trip the minute I got the call from Honnold.

Canyonlands of UtahWe woke up every day in the shimmering riverside light, filtered the mud out of river water, and cooked up oatmeal or bacon before heading up to the buttresses, intent on squeezing out every drop of daylight. Each day Alex’s energy was unwavering, pushing the team forward to the next untouched piece of stone. Rest days were not in the vocabulary, even on day 10 when the rain came in, Alex pushed for one more line, one more tower.

If Daniel’s courage could have been measured, the day he led his first trad route, it would have been counted by the beads of sweat collecting on his and all of our brows, quantified by the nausea of pushing past the pain threshold and the look of wide-eyed wonder, fear, and enthusiasm that intensified in the corners of his eyes every time Alex said, “Don’t worry, dude. You’ll be fine.”  But it was Alex’s mentorship, his genuine enthusiasm for Daniel, and his giant, persistent smile that made this trip the most memorable for me. It was the times that Daniel, and all of us, really, would try and fail and try again that reminded us that climbing is a journey where you never quite arrive.

Greenriver CanyonlandsThis was one of those unique trips that so seamlessly combines the old and new. Back to our roots in this red desert, we discovered new climbs and joined Daniel in an all-time learning and mentoring experience.  I enjoyed the motivation that came with being a climber on the team, as well as a shooter and storyteller. It had me up before dawn each morning, looking for the perfect light, and wandering the riverbanks long after dark, shooting images of the stars. This trip was an opportunity in rare form, a chance to bring a story to life that combined the power of this landscape, one that has given me so much over the years, with the human emotion of my teammates.

It was the moments when the ferocious, sand-pelting wind died down, the sun dipped below the horizon, and we found ourselves stumbling back into camp that I’ll remember.  It was the teamwork, the contagious nature of wanting to help each other all push further. We were glowing from shared climbs, shared fear, shared success, and endorphins kicking.  Now that the dust has finally settled on this adventure, those are the emotions I hope most to share.  An honest look into each of our characters and the special way of life that is desert climbing … UNEARTHED is the revelation of these things.

Green River Canyon

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