Our Story

Seth and Sabra Rock ClimbingCliffhanger Guides is a culmination of the work and life experiences of Seth Zaharias, Sabra Purdy, and our amazing staff.

We are the only rock climbing guide service in Joshua Tree to have a brick and mortar presence located in the heart of the community on Park blvd directly across the street from the JTNP visitor center. We have built a upcycled Conex shipping container building that is 70% recycled materials, solar powered, all art project on the outside and all business on the inside. Please see the above image.

At Cliffhanger Guides we believe that anybody can rock climb. We play with kids age 6-106, all shapes, sizes, and ability levels. We are dedicated to expanding people’s horizons and giving them a chance to connect with the natural world and all that it has to offer.

Rock climbing is a great medium for discovering the outdoors, building strength and flexibility, and cultivating life-long friendships. Rock Climbing is exciting, rewarding, and highly adventurous; all attributes we believe contribute to happy, satisfied people.

This is a good thing.

Why We Chose Joshua Tree

There are many wonderful places to rock climb around the globe. California alone has thousands of amazing climbing areas ranging from world class bouldering to 3,000 foot granite monoliths. We’ve sampled a fairly good portion of these offerings, not just in California, but around the world.

After all our travels, we decided to make Joshua Tree our winter home base and the International Headquarters for Cliffhanger Guides. The desert of Joshua Tree National Park is an amazing place full of surprises. At first glance it can seem desolate, but with a little deeper exploration, the Mojave desert becomes magical, particularly with a bird’s eye view from one of the many rock summits in the park. Joshua Tree National Park is one of the premier rock climbing areas on the planet, with some 9,000 climbs to choose from.
From October to April, Joshua Tree becomes an international rock climbing destination and the scene of many a fine adventure.

We also believe that just because we’re out adventuring, we don’t have to suffer unduly. Just the right amount.
All Cliffhanger Guides trips come with gourmet food, hot or cold beverages, and tall tales. Come rejuvenate your spirits, sweat, grunt, and laugh with us. We hope that you choose to have your Joshua Tree rock climbing adventure with us and we hope to share our love of this beautiful national park with you!

Seth Zaharias

Seth Zaharias

Owner

My Name is Seth Heydon Zaharias. I am 40 years young. For 17 years I have been lucky enough to call Joshua Tree my home and community. I live there seasonally (Oct. to April) with my amazing wife, partner, and best friend, Sabra Purdy at internationally famous destination, aka The Sethspool. I was first introduced to the sport of rock climbing in 1990. I loved it!!!!! The adventure, the chess game of working out a sequence of moves, the exhilaration of a highly physical day in the mountains, the open community–almost immediately, I was hooked.

By 21, I knew that I wanted to work in the field of outdoor education. Over the years I have worked for many different schools, programs, and guide services. 20 years later I have approximately 2500 guide days. If you think about it, that translates to almost 7 full years of working with people on the rock every single day! I have worked in a whole bunch of different climbing areas including Joshua Tree, the Eastern Sierras, Devils Tower National Monument, El Choro, Spain, Montana and beyond. In 2002 I spent a summer working for the elite Yosemite Search and Rescue team. I am also a Professional Climbing Guides Institute certified Multi-pitch Guide and Mentor. This means that I have completed the highest level of training that the PCGI offers and teach new and aspiring guides the highly challenging trade of professional rock guiding. You would have to work very hard to find a more dedicated or experienced guide than me.

I chose this profession because it is more than just a job. It is a lifestyle that I have immersed myself in completely. I love guiding because on a day to day basis, I never know who is going to walk into my life and what lifelong friendships may be forged. I get to introduce people to the most important thing (besides my wife) that ever happened to me and show them the wonders that an outdoor life can provide. People spend their vacations with me! I am truly thankful for this. I do my utmost to show my clients the most amazing adventure I can offer. I am not just some tour guide, I have dedicated my entire life to helping people experience the best vacations possible!

For tall tales of high adventure, you will have to ask in person and I will make you buckle over laughing and gasp in fear with absurd escapades and feats of strength and courage. When you hire me, I give you my word I will work hard to help you realize your goals. I look forward to meeting you, learning something from you and sharing, with you, my love of rock climbing!!

Mike Donaldson

Mike Donaldson

GUIDE

Mike is a man of many talents. From hard first ascent rock climbs, to teaching eastern studies, to flying and building remote control airplanes, to deep studies of UFOs and unexplained events…… A true visionary and someone we are proud to call a friend and coworker. Mike landed with us in the fall of 2012. Mike took a Professional Climbing Guides Institute Multi-pitch guide course and assessment with Seth, they hit it off, and Mike was offered the apprentice position at Cliffhanger for the 2013 season. Man, we have a hard time letting go of these apprentices, they’re too damn good! Mike has been with us ever since and we don’t have any plans of letting him go. Outside of Cliffhanger Guides, Mike has had a host of other educational experiences both inside of academia and experientially that have  shaped him into the great educator and guide he is today. Mike has participated with both NOLS and Outward Bound both as a student and as a instructor and facilitator. Mike is also a certified Wilderness First Responder. He first got involved with professional rock guide training via the AMGA back in 2007 and has participated in the following trainings: Top Rope site manager (2007), Single Pitch Instructor (2007), and the Rock Instructor training (2011). In 2012, he took the PCGI Multi-Pitch Guide course and passed his assessment with flying colors. In acadamia Mike spent 4 years studing eastern arts at Naropa University. If you want to get  deep, drop some philosophy talk about aliens, or sacred geometry, Mike is your guy!  On a personal climbing note, Mike’s resume is also something to behold. Mike has climbed extensively around the western USA. From the Buagboo Spires of western Canada to the dark belly of Colorado’s Black Canyon, to wall routes of the infamous El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, to El Gran Trono Blanco of obscure Baja Mexico fame……This guys got both mileage and skills…… Mike is currently on a first ascent bender adding many future classic routes to our winter home crag, Joshua Tree.

Rob Schwarzmann

Rob Schwarzmann

GUIDE

Rob comes to us from the red rock canyonlands of Zion National Park. We first met Rob years ago when he took a Professional Climbing Guides Institute training course with us while he was guiding rock climbing and canyoneering for Zion Adventure Company in Springdale, UT. We have always been impressed with Rob’s impressive technical rope and rescue skills and knowledge of climbing systems, but his ability to put people at ease, teach, and show people a fantastic time is second to none. We love his kooky sense of humor, wit, and generosity of spirit. Rob is an incredibly well rounded guide who loves rock climbing, alpinism, ice climbing, canyoneering, children, puppies, growing weird facial hair, sweet potatoes, and jeeps. Rob has now opened his own Canyoneering Guide Service called Zion Canyon Guides with his partner and playmate, Katharyn Woods, her wonderful daughter, Megs, and Moguls, the Jack Russell terrier. We highly suggest you check them out next time you’re in Utah and want to have an awesome adventure. In 2014, we asked Rob to join our team in his off season, and we are overjoyed that he said yes! Anyone who spends the day with Rob will understand exactly what we mean. A day with Rob is an unforgettable adventure and true joy.

Andy Funaro

Andy Funaro

GUIDE

We met Andy when he first arrived in Joshua Tree in 2010, and were immediately drawn to his delight and enthusiasm for all things climbing related. Many of you will recognize him from his years of working at the local climbing gear store, Nomad Ventures, where he was by far one of the most helpful and knowledgeable of the team. He is always eager to share his love of climbing, knowledge of the Park, and give excellent advice on any and all climbing gear. He loves to teach and is genuinely dedicated to showing people a great time (a Cliffhanger Guides Must!). He became the Cliffhanger Apprentice for the 2014/2015 season and we think he is a great fit. Andy has a considerable amount of guide training and certification under his belt starting with AMGA single pitch instructor and more recently completing his Single Pitch Certification and Lead Guide and Rescue courses through the Professional Climbing Guides Institute. Rest assured that a day spent climbing with Andy will be an unforgettably fun adventure. He will always do everything in his power to give you the best day ever.

Sabra Purdy

Sabra Purdy

Owner

I’m Sabra Purdy, the other half of Cliffhanger Guides. I’ve been knocking around the mountains of California since birth. My family came to the California gold country around Yosemite during the gold rush in the 1850s and they’ve been hard pressed to get rid of us ever since. I grew up scrambling on the crazy limestone boulders exposed by placer mining in Columbia State Park. Apparently my parents thought solo rock climbing was a better occupation for a 6 year old than hanging out in the local watering holes drinking booze with all the pickpockets and loose women, so I spent most of my formative years crawling on rocks.

Early on, I realized that the eastern Sierra was where I wanted to be. I liked big landscapes, big views, and big old pieces of stone. I learned to climb on the rocks of Tuolumne Meadows and its environs, and realized that this messing about on rocks made me happier than anything else in the world. I love rocks, rivers, road trips, and have an especial fondness for ill-conceived journeys into third-world countries (a formative travel book in my youth was titled I should have stayed home).

About 15 years ago I met one Mr. Seth Heydon Zaharias, mad Greek, inspired adventurer, climber of off-widths, and hands down, the funnest person I’ve ever known. I’ve never had a better partner and we recognized in each other kindred spirits. So much so that I hauled off and married him this past October. Now that was an adventure! We’ve spent many wonderful days together on the rock, adventuring, causing scenes, and rallying our 1984 Toyota Chinook down some seriously questionable 4wd roads. Somewhere along the line in my checkered academic career (it took me 8 years to get my undergrad because I kept running off to the mountains), I got hired by a private school in Missoula, Montana to take the kiddies climbing at the local crag for their PE classes. That was so much fun, I hired on with a local organization that got kids outside fooling around in dirt and climbing. Eventually, I ended up at UC Davis where I spent the next 6 years working for their highly developed outdoor program, Outdoor Adventures, while pursuing a Masters in Restoration Ecology. At OA, I managed the climbing program, teaching classes, and training guides while occasionally slipping over to the dark side and moonlighting as a rafting guide. In more recent years I’ve taken courses through the Professional Climbing Guides Institute and started Cliffhanger Guides with Seth.

I realize that people have a deep seated need for adventure in the outdoors. It allows us to refresh our minds and spirits, gets us away from the grind of over-scheduled lives running a deficit of fun. I have seen firsthand how transformative a fun and exciting day in the outdoors can be. We feel like it is our personal duty to get people back out into the woods. It feels so good to see someone’s face light up when they reach the top of a climb, the happy camaraderie of a day well-spent in the mountains, the amazing transformation that occurs as stress and the everyday concerns fall away. I have worked hard all my life to seek out the road less traveled and hopefully get lost even from there. We’ll make you laugh with our off-color stories and our hare-brained schemes. I’ll tell you more than you ever wanted to know about bugs and snakes and weeds and things. We will eat and be merry. I invite you to come adventuring with us.

Roddy McCalley

Roddy McCalley

GUIDE

Roddy first visited Joshua Tree on a family camping trip to the desert during the visit of Halley’s Comet in 1986. He was seven years old, and loved exploring the weird chasms and giant granite domes. After earning a degree in Ecology from Yale University (much later, obviously), he threw everything he owned into a hand-me-down Ford Taurus and hit the road to earn his living as a leader of outdoor science programs and wilderness trips for school groups. He soon became obsessed with the sport of rock climbing, and pursued it with passion and enthusiasm living life as a full time nomad. Over the years his love of climbing has led him to the mountains of South America and Europe, to the sea-cliffs of Thailand, up big walls in Yosemite and remote peaks in the High Sierra, to Mexico, Canada, and all over the desert southwest. Since 2010 he has worked in Joshua Tree as a PCGI-certified climbing guide. These days, Roddy is a slightly less nomadic, but he still spends the summer season leading wilderness trips and climbing in Yosemite and the High Sierra, and winters in Joshua Tree with his lovely wife, the artist Jenny Kane. If you have the pleasure of going climbing with Roddy, you will find his enthusiasm for climbing and life absolutely infectious. He is an entertaining story teller, kind soul, and talented guide. His knowledge of Joshua Tree ecology and local history make him  fascinating adventure partner and we know you will love him as much as we do.

Kelly Fields

Kelly Fields

GUIDE

Kelly was practically born trad climbing. From the tender age of two, Kelly was out exploring and scaling mountains with her family all over the country. Kelly’s real passion has always been for traditional adventure climbing and she has an impressive list of accomplishments and first ascents to her name. At 18 Kelly ran from the concrete jungle to the hills of West Virginia to begin an apprenticeship with the highly respected Seneca Rocks Mountain Guides. It was there that Kelly found her calling as a climbing guide. She went on to acquire her Lead Guide certification at the age of 21 through the Professional Climbing Guides Institute and has been working as a full time guide ever since. In 2011 Kelly started Chicks With Nuts, a series of women’s only climbing events designed to help women advance their skills together on the rock. We met Kelly in the winter of 2015 when she traveled cross country to complete her continuing education through the PCGI with Seth here in Joshua Tree. After spending the week in Joshua Tree, Kelly decided on a seasonal migration to the desert to fulfill her dream of guiding year round. Kelly now lives the dream guiding for half the year on the east coast and the other half for us in Joshua Tree. When she is not guiding, climbing, or hunting for first ascents Kelly can sometimes be found indoors working on completing her bachelors degree in Business Administration. We love Kelly’s quick and quirky sense of humor, her most excellent technical climbing skills, and her dedication to her craft. If you’re lucky enough to climb with Ms. Fields, you’ll feel exactly the same way.