Cliffhanger 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!
My Name is Seth Heydon Zaharias. I have been lucky enough to call Joshua Tree my home and community since 2000. I live there seasonally (Oct. to April) with my amazing wife, partner, and best friend, Sabra Purdy at the internationally famous destination, 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 and counting. 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!!
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!). Andy became the Cliffhanger apprentice in 2014, and after continuously increasing his guide certification levels in now one of the Master Guides on our guide team. He has a considerable amount of training and certification under his belt starting with AMGA single pitch instructor and more recently completing his Multi Pitch Guide certification 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.
Jessy Ware is full of ambition and curiosity. Born and raised here in Joshua Tree, California, he grew up skateboarding and wrestling, both of which ignited his love for movement and self-expression and developed the mindset that mastery comes with making something a true study. Climbing is a dance, a fight and a meditation (with a touch of engineering) all in one- and for Jessy, it is an incredible vehicle not only for his physical, mental and spiritual composure, but also for finding community, camaraderie and purpose in his life. Jessy took on Cliffhanger’s Apprentice Guide role during the 2018/2019 season, and impressed us all with his genuine passion for climbing and natural teaching ability. Using climbing as a platform to teach is a dream come true and he continues to take courses and further his education and development as a guide. We are excited to see him flourish as a fully fledged guide and teacher. If you are lucky enough to climb with Jessy, you will be charmed by his warmth, engagement, and commitment to creating a magical day for you.
Quinton has been a Joshua tree local since birth, and joined the Cliffhanger family almost as organically. He began guiding with us in 2018 upon the recommendation of our beloved Master Guide, Andy Funaro. We were not led astray, as Quinton quickly stole our hearts with his in depth knowledge of the park, technical acumen, and engaging demeanor. As a PCGI certified Single Pitch Guide, Quinton thrives on introducing families and new climbers to Joshua Tree’s unique climbing style. Rock climbing is his self-proclaimed obsession, but he’s also a jack of many trades. Among them, Quinton is an avid sourdough bread baker, stoked on massage and yoga, lives for the Joshua Tree Music Festival, and loves playing tennis and ping-pong. A champion of the Sprinter van life, he spends summers in Colorado and Lake Tahoe. If you’re lucky enough to climb with Q for a day, you’ll be taken by his supportive instructing style, easygoing nature, and his deep love for Joshua Tree.
Lansdon grew up in Tennessee where he spent his childhood exploring the hills and hollows around his family’s farm. A lifelong love for the outdoors was instilled in him from a young age but it wasn’t until college that he found rock climbing. His first climbs were with his brothers on sketchily rigged top ropes using deer stand harnesses and hiking boots. Those first climbs may have not been done in textbook style but that was all it took to get Lansdon hooked on rock climbing. From there he started purchasing gear and learning safe ways to climb. During college, Lansdon climbed as much as possible. He even went as far as to create his class schedules so that afternoons were free for climbing. Summers were spent travelling and exploring world class climbing areas as far north as British Columbia and as far west as Yosemite Valley. After graduating with a degree in Geology, Lansdon got a job with an oil company in Oklahoma. He spent two years studying rocks from a desk and decided that climbing rocks is way cooler than sitting in an office. So he ended his geology career a little early to pursue a career that focuses more on climbing rocks and less on fracking them. Lansdon now alternates between guiding at Devils Tower in the summer and Joshua Tree in the winter. He is a fun and easy going person who can talk as much about climbing rocks as how they got there. Lansdon’s spirit of adventure and southern charm make him an outstanding member of our team. He is sure to take you on a Joshua Tree adventure that is as unique as the park itself.
GUIDE & OFFICE ADMIN
Erica Nguyen had been climbing for nearly 10 years before migrating to Joshua Tree from the high desert mountains of Northern New Mexico. Originally a coastal California native and city kid, she wears many hats. Her previous life as a program coordinator for the Mountain Center in Santa Fe was particularly impactful. This non-profit utilizes climbing as a conduit for underserved young people and native communities to find connection in their lives and is the mindset from which she contributes to the Cliffhanger spirit. The philosophy of personal growth and self-transformation through climbing, as well as a tireless love for adventure, shapes Erica’s approach to guiding. Now in her second season with us, she continues to make strides developing her skills within the PCGI mentorship program, as well as providing invaluable help to the Cliffhanger office. She is eager to soak up all the tips, tricks and techniques that this community has shared thus far and welcomes more opportunities for growth. When she’s not climbing, a prominent side hustle of Erica’s has been directing/producing a feature documentary film in Perú. That’s a whole story of its own, but she’s happy to share over our nice picnic lunch. And finally, her dear rabbit, Cotton, is uniquely meaningful in her daily life.
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).
Around 2005 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.
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. 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 Professional Climbing Guide Institute 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. She is always seeking to advance in the field, and became the first female guide to attain the Multi Pitch Guide certification through the PCGI in 2019. 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.
Jeremy, fondly known as “Jerbs”, joined the Cliffhanger crew as the apprentice during the 2017/18 season. Despite being 19 years old at the time, Jerbs came with some incredible recommendations from some of the founding fathers of the Joshua Tree climbing scene. We are really glad we brought him into the fold. Jerbs is a native of Joshua Tree and exudes local pride. He’s also a prodigy. One of the strongest climbers in So-cal, super fun to hang out with, and possesses an ever positive attitude. Combine this with his high technical skill set and diverse knowledge of JTNP, and you have a really great guide! For Jeremy, climbing is nearly everything, ping pong is a close second, and skateboarding lands somewhere around 3rd in his priority list. He can be found seasonally bouncing between Yosemite and Joshua Tree, following in the footsteps of his old school heroes and mentors. Jeremy holds 3 different P.C.G.I certifications (Tope Rope Guide, Single Pitch Guide and Lead Guide) as well as a Wilderness First Responder from W.M.A.
Sarah Dudley grew up right here in J Tree, running barefoot through the desert and scrambling on top of rock piles at an early age. Climbing has always been second nature to her. It’s been 6 years since she was first introduced to climbing, and is now Cliffhanger Guide’s official apprentice, working her way up the PCGI certification ladder. She has a background in teaching kids climbing classes, and has worked with children ages 3-15. Getting them outside, connecting them with nature, and helping them explore through climbing brings her joy. She loves anything movement based that allows her to connect the mind and body, especially if it happens outside. Her aspirations of one day becoming a yoga teacher are inspired by that same practice. In the summer months she can be found chasing cooler weather and playing in the mountains. Though Joshua Tree is her home, getting out and spending extended periods of time on unfamiliar land is really exciting. If you get the opportunity to climb with Sarah Dudley, you’ll be delighted by her gentle teaching style, patience, and love of climbing.
Avery landed in Joshua Tree and began working for Cliffhanger Guides in 2019 as the full time office admin. With over 7 years of experience working in the recreation industry and in the small business realm, she loves facilitating unforgettable experiences for people, building community, and nerding out on business logistics. An avid climber herself, working with the Cliffhanger Guides team has been a natural fit. When she’s not organizing trips behind the scenes, you can probably catch her climbing in the park. Whether she’s underneath a boulder, clipping bolts, or placing gear is of no consequence to her – she loves it all! Like all of the Cliffhanger team, Avery enjoys traveling and sampling amazing climbing areas across the country and the world. She’s climbed in Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, California, Nevada, and most recently took a trip to Mexico. She always keeps an eye on the horizon for new places to visit, people to meet, and adventures to live out. On rainy days Avery likes to curl up in bed with her cat, Percy, and binge watch anime. She’s a music festival junkie, board/card game fanatic, and seeker of exotic foods (the spicier, the better).