In 2010 I photographed a cover story for Rock & Ice Magazine about Arizona climber Eric Scully. As a counterpoint to the fluffy hero worship you usually find in these magazines, writer Andrew Bisharat painted a beautiful and raw portrait of Eric. Rather than try to explain, you should read it here.
Eric had been through a lot of struggles, external, internal, maybe existential. He was eager to enter the climbing game after a cancer-forced hiatus. “There is so much I want to talk about,” he told Bisharat, “Sponsorships … the climbing industry … making the sport grow. I’ve been out of the game for so long, and I’m back with a new attitude, a whole new approach. I just think I can be a really positive influence. I want to be someone who is a positive influence.” Hah. That got an eyeroll from Bisharat but I remember Eric talking about that shit all. the. time. And not in the way a wide-eyed kid dreams it, but as an adult (“…his eyes are dark and sunken, like two shiny marbles shot into his face…”) might prophecy it.
Eric was the first to show the climbing world that the standards could be blown away by some punk kid, and it didn’t go real well for him. Suspicion over his ascents constantly overshadowed his accomplishments. I think, man, if he’d have stayed in the game just a little longer… But we’ll never know. Eric never took well to being judged. Since it’s a matter of public record I’ll give you the spoiler: He did not stay in climbing. As of late 2018, Eric is in Federal prison. You can Google it, if you care to judge.
I’m mentioned in the story, as a “friend of Eric’s.” In 2001 I quit my job as a computer programmer in Tucson to do photography, and got a side gig at the local climbing gym Rocks & Ropes to keep some cash flow and because it was fun. I started the youth climbing team, “Tucson Climbing Project” and asked Eric to join. That was in his punk-kid heyday, and I was surprised that he agreed, and took on the role – for awhile – as a defacto team captain until he wandered from the community for awhile. It was after that – and cancer – that I reconnected with him, as an adult, 7 years later when this piece was written. I helped him train to get back, setting long ridiculous boulder linkups in the gym that started at V0 and ended at V12. And I’d put the draws up on the 5.9 warmups outside, since he could barely keep his hands warm enough. But after a year he’d done the linkups, warmed up on my 5.13 project, and sent his 5.14 project, The Morgue, a brutally blank thumb of rock on Mount Lemmon that had become our regular spot for hard climbing and incredible sunsets.
I’m going to dwell on that moment. In his story, when Eric clips the chains on The Morgue, Bisharat quotes me, “He had this wild look when he pulled the crux. Bug-eyed and yelling, he gunned it for the top. When he clipped the chains, we were both screaming at the top of our lungs. That was probably one of the best days of climbing I ever had, and I was just belaying.”
It went down the same way Eric’s other hard ascents had gone down a decade earlier: just him and a belayer, without the all-important witnesses to judge the claim.