Guiding in the era of Covid-19

Guiding in the era of Covid-19

We are excited to announce our reopening for the season this coming October 1st, 2020! We have been closed for roughly 7 months and are ecstatic to get back to the business of sharing our wonderful home of Joshua Tree National Park from a bird’s eye view.

Guiding in the era of Covid-19

Hello Dear Friends. We have missed you! It has been a long, strange year full of unprecedented events and situations. We hope that this finds you all healthy and navigating your way through this new landscape with all the grace, perseverance, and flexibility that any one of us can muster. This has been a challenging time for everyone in so many ways and the future remains uncertain. We have spent the last few months thinking deeply about how we can maximize the safety of our guests and staff while providing the increasingly essential service of getting people outside in the natural world, away from screens and zoom meetings, and experiencing the joy and rebuilding of spirit that has always been the gift of wild places. We feel so fortunate that we can provide the opportunity to you all to access the vast rocky otherworld that is Joshua Tree and feel the much-needed release that comes of adventure and beauty.

Cliffhanger Guides was the first guide company in Joshua Tree to voluntarily close during the onset of Covid-19. This was a hard decision, but we felt it was the right decision in the face of a novel situation that swept up the world. We take the health of our guides, our guests, and our community very seriously. The good news is, 7 months into this pandemic we have a much better idea of what we’re dealing with. Strong data suggests that transmission of Covid-19 is very unlikely in an outdoor environment and that taking precautions that minimize the risk of transmission makes us feel strongly that we can provide the highest caliber experience to our guests while maximizing everyone’s health and safety. Many of our existing approaches to guided adventures already set us up to be a great recreational and entertainment choice. We always provide private trips with no mixed groups. We always seek the less traveled areas of the park to maximize privacy and enjoyment. We always maintain our equipment to be clean and hygienic. In addition to our already high standards we are implementing protocols to protect all participants of Cliffhanger adventures.

1) Minimizing trip numbers: we will not exceed 10 climbers as per the regulations of JTNP. As always there will be no mixed groups
2) Masks will be worn by both guides and guests whenever we are within 6ft of one another, including, but not limited to: Instructional moments, fitting equipment, multi-pitch belay stances, etc.
3) All gear will be sanitized daily or put into a 72 hour quarantine.
4) Picnics will be prepared and packaged to reduce contact between guests and guide and minimize risk with extra hand washing and sanitizing opportunities beyond our already high standards
5) Guides will complete a daily wellness check-in and temperature check prior to meeting guests. No one will guide if they do not meet health criteria.
6) Hand sanitizer will be available throughout the day on all trips.

We feel strongly that taking these additional measures on top of the benefits we already realize by being in a well-ventilated outdoor setting will enable us to safely provide the amazing climbing experiences we pride ourselves on.

With nearly 73,000 US small business permanently closed because of Covid-19, we feel incredibly grateful that we have the opportunity to re-open this fall and continue our life’s work of giving people a chance to connect with the natural world, release stress and uncertainty, and recharge through joyous adventure. We are so happy to bring our staff back on and keep contributing to the local economy when so many tourism-based areas have been devastated. We thank all of you for all the goodwill and support you have extended to us, and we are so excited to finally get to climb with you! As always, families and return guests get a 10% discount and we would also like to provide that 10% off to the guests whose trips we had to postpone in the spring. We can’t wait to climb with you!

In Gratitude,
Seth, Sabra, and all the Cliffhanger Gang

Kelly Fields becomes the First Female Certified PCGI Multi-Pitch Guide

Kelly Fields becomes the First Female Certified PCGI Multi-Pitch Guide

We could not be prouder! We want to congratulate our amazing guide, Kelly Fields, for passing her PCGI Multi-pitch guide assessment with flying colors. This grueling 4-day guiding assessment tests high-level guide skills in multi-pitch terrain including advanced rescue techniques, difficult climbing, multi-person short-roping, and all-around skill and capability in demanding terrain. Kelly was pretty much unfazed by the challenge and as she always does, kept calm and rocked on. She now holds the impressive title of the first female to hold a Professional Climbing Guides Institute (PCGI) Multi-Pitch Guide certificate. The world of rock-climbing guiding is exceptionally male-dominated (it is estimated that fewer than 10% of climbing guides in the United States are female) and few of those guides work in such demanding, sometimes dangerous, and challenging terrain. Multi-pitch guiding strenuously tests a guide’s strength, endurance, judgement, route finding, technical skills, and climbing ability. Few individuals of any gender make it to this level of guiding and we are particularly proud that our dear friend, Kelly, has risen to the challenge and earned her title.

At the ripe old age of 27, Kelly has been guiding for nearly a decade and was already the youngest ever female certified PCGI Lead Guide. Kelly was born into a climbing family, and has been ascending walls since she could walk. One of her first memories was summitting the impressive Seneca Rocks when she was five years old (Old Man’s Route, Seneca Rocks—4 pitches, 5.3, with a nice nap on every ledge). By the time she was in her early teens she began leading trad routes at her home crag and learning as much as she could from older, more experienced climbers. As an adult she has gone on to climb numerous big wall routes on El Cap, adventure climb in the high Sierras, Cuba, Greece and Italy, and continues to push herself physically and technically so that she can accomplish all of her climbing goals. When she’s not climbing, she’s probably reading climbing books or articles, spending way too much time on Super Topo and Mountain Project, studying the mechanics of climbing, and continually dialing in her systems. If you’ve ever climbed with Kelly or taken a course with her, you know that her technical prowess is extremely impressive. Her goal has never been to climb the hardest, but to know everything there was to know about rock climbing and become an expert in the field. Her success thus far is a testament to her drive, passion, and insatiable appetite to learn and better herself as a climber and teacher.

Kelly is a consummate guide with years of experience teaching and guiding but she continues to push onward and upward in her career. She has long nurtured other female climbers and she found that there was a huge demand for women’s specific trad and multi-pitch climbing instruction. She saw that there was little available for women wanting to learn traditional and multi-pitch climbing so she took matters into her own hands and became the founder and head guide of Chicks with Nuts, which provides women’s only trad climbing clinics. For years Kelly has mentored other female climbers through the Chicks with Nuts clinics, and strives to empower and grow the female climbing community. She is a much sought-after guide and instructor and has taught clinics at the Flash Foxy Bishop Women’s Climbing Festival since its inception. If this sounds interesting to you or someone you know, there is good news. Cliffhanger Guides is thrilled to present Chicks with Nuts here in Joshua Tree April 12-14th. There are still a few spaces left if you are interested in joining. This is a great opportunity to build your skills and join in an incredible community of Trad Climbing women for adventure and fun. Email us for more information at We love you, Kelly!

Lynn Hill Experience 3.0!

Lynn Hill Experience 3.0!


We are happy to announce the Lynn Hill Experience Part: 3!

This event will take place over the last weekend of April, from Friday the 26th to Sunday the 28th. This 3-day event is a magical weekend retreat focused on climbing, culture, and community. Join Lynn and our team of amazing guides in a very special event. A variety of unique experiences and activities will be built into the event, including climbing movement clinics taught by Lynn herself, onsite yoga classes, and gourmet communal meals. The event will take place at the Cliffhanger homestead fondly known as the “Sethspool” with climbing clinics inside Joshua Tree National Park. The Sethspool itself is an art house that truly showcases the blend of Joshua Tree’s grand funk and the strong climbing heritage of the area. Guests will have the opportunity to pitch tents, camp in their vehicles, or stay in vintage trailers at an additional cost.

The Lynn Hill Experience will have just 10 participants and spaces are filling up quickly. Cost for the weekend is $1,300/person. We ask for a 50% deposit to reserve a spot, and the final payment will be due post event and upon complete satisfaction.

For more information contact us at our email: or at our office line 760-401-5033.

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   In May of 2018 Seth Zaharias (Owner Cliffhanger Guides) was contacted by a VIP guest asking for an all-frills wedding engagement high up on the wall at Lake Tahoe’s infamous Lovers Leap. This is the stuff Seth lives for. Seth Immediately teamed up with Petch from Lovers Leap Guides and the project began to come to life…After much scouring of the Internet Seth finally found a classically trained violist with solid climbing skills who was willing to play a set nearly 700 off the ground. Local porters were hired, much food and wine were purchased, and the very talented Phillip Kaake (cinematographer) was brought in to document this strange elevated proposal…. All said and done, 7 of us cried our eyes out while Adam and Shannon agreed to spend the rest of there lives together while standing on a small ledge way of the deck. Please check out our short video below and give us a YouTube like if you think its worthy!
#STOPTHEFEE Deep Thoughts with Seth Zaharias on the 280% Proposed National Parks Fee Increase

#STOPTHEFEE Deep Thoughts with Seth Zaharias on the 280% Proposed National Parks Fee Increase

A Line in the Sand with Seth Zaharias

On Tuesday, October 24th Interior Secretary Ryan Zink released a proposal to significantly increase entrance fees and special use fees at seventeen National Parks. While the fee increase proposal has widely been considered a slap in the face to both low income families and the working class businesses that rely on park visitation for their livelihoods, the Park Service says that it expects to raise $70 million-per-year as a result of the most recent proposal. On Tuesday, October 24th officials opened a 30-day public comment period that will end on November 27th. Meanwhile, the many small business owners that are located in the National Park’s gateway communities are fighting the fee increase proposal with modern methods. This week we sat down with the Seth Zaharias, the co-owner of Cliffhanger Guides in Joshua Tree, to discuss his thoughts on the proposed fee increase and how he plans to fight it.

“As a small business owner of Cliffhanger Guides, that Sabra and I own down here in Joshua Tree, I’m pretty freaked out about the proposed fee increases,” said Zaharias. “Essentially the average park tourist is looking at about a $70 park entrance fee [opposed to the current $25 entrance fee] and as a commercial outfitter, I’m looking at about $10,000 annually. As far as the average tourist that cycles through Joshua Tree; most of them can afford $70 but we’d definitely be keeping out some poor people for sure. And even for the people who can afford $70, this fee increase will take about $45 out of the spending money that those folks would have likely spent in the community of Joshua Tree during their vacation – that might be at a local restaurant or a gear shop or at a guide service like myself. From the perspective of a business owner; $10k per year is a pretty big hit. I haven’t crunched the numbers yet, but I can say with confidence that myself and my wife Sabra and our staff would have to all take some kind of a pay cut.  It’s very important for us to pay our staff well – we pay them above the industry standards. I’m very interested in giving people raises so that they can afford sustainable living conditions here in Joshua Tree, but I’m not at all interested in giving them pay cuts because that’s lame. Nobody wants a pay cut. It’s just stupid.”

“As it currently sits Cliffhanger Guides is paying the Park Service just under $500 annually for a special use permit, and I personally feel that that is ridiculously low and I’ve actually been trying to give the Park Service more money for a long time,” said Zaharias. “But with the bureaucracy of the Park Service it’s not like we can just hand them more money. But Sabra and I have been offsetting that by supporting various non-profits that support the park, such as the Access Fund, Friends of Joshua Tree, the Hardware Anchor Replacement Program (HARP), and other community services like getting local kids climbing in the park. But this new proposal of $10,000 annually from Cliffhanger is absurd, but that is based on the fact that we are considered a Road Tour Operator, which actually makes me think that we might be able to beat this. In my meeting this morning with David Smith I actually proposed that we move to a percentage based system, and the National Park already has laws in place that allow land managers to bill us up to 3% of gross for the right to legally operate on public lands. I’m not crazy about the 3% but if we could compromise at 2% I’d feel really good about it. At current numbers we’d be giving the park about $2,500 annually, which for us is pretty big, but, if it’s going to help the park to function better than I’m all for it. Personally, I think that would be a very fair way to increase the cost of special use permits while simultaneously being manageable under our current budget.”

“It’s a big can of worms, especially in 24 days from now,” added Zaharias. “The Republican Party gave a 30-day period of public comment which is a really tight window, and it’s going to make some massive social networking connections to make this happen. The good news is that I’m probably the best networker you’ve ever met, and I’ve spent 25 years putting nothing but goodwill and love into the climbing community. On top of that, nine of the seventeen parks affected by the proposed increase has rock climbing within them, which means that I have connections at upper levels at nine of the communities surrounding those parks. Those are mostly people who own businesses in these communities. And in reality, it’s probably more like 25 communities because lots of these parks have more than one gateway community. In order for this to work, I need to get us all on the same page, and the way that I plan to do it is by massive social media outreach. I’m not asking people for money, I’m only asking for shares. The other way I plan to accomplish this is by trying to kill myself with an absurd amount of physical labor and sleeping five hours a night and making over 100 phone calls per-day. But this issue matters to me. Failure is not even an option for me. We will unite the seventeen National Parks and the communities surrounding them to beat this.”

Help Learn Voice Your Opinion

“If you want to help, you can go to and look in the upper-left-hand corner of the page where there is a tab that talks about comments and fee increases,” added Zaharias. “If you click on that there is a fact and information form as well as a form to fill out for public comment. I’d like to 500,000 signatures on this by November 27th. Is that possible? I’m not sure, but I think big, I dream big and I’ve got to do this. If you want to do me a favor or do yourself a favor; or if you want to do your grandchildren a favor, or if you want to do the low-income population of our country a favor, please go to the website and please submit a comment. Right now there are about 2,000 signatures and that just isn’t going to cut it…”



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