Favorite type of climbing (bouldering, sports climbing, trad, etc.):
Trad is my favorite, but first ascents are the best.
When and how did you get into climbing and what kept you interested / fascinated in the sport?
I moved from CT to UT in '09 with a pair of blown-out climbing shoes, a second-hand harness with no gear loops and little climbing knowledge. My first desert experience was climbing Castleton, it changed everything. The adventure, the otherworldly scenery, the peaceful isolation; I was all-in from that moment on.
Who was your childhood hero and do you consider yourself a role model now? Does it influence you at all that other people look up to you?
Childhood hero? You mean besides Tommy?
As a child and as an adult I have always looked up to my Dad. He is the best example I know of a genuinely good person who continues to get after it with a smile on his face.
I don't consider myself a role model, however I do really appreciate it when someone tells me that they were inspired by a route I established or a photo I took.
What were the most important milestones in your life so far, both in climbing and in everyday life? Did you immediately recognize them as such or only later on?
Moving from Connecticut to Utah in 2009 was a really major milestone. I fell in love with the desert and I went all-in on climbing and exploration. Nothing else mattered and it felt like I found my path in life. I've had many personal milestones in climbing. One in particular was climbing El Monstruo in Chile. In fact, it is a vertical mile of stone. Undoubtedly, it was an amazing adventure and a day I won't forget. It was also significant because before heading to South America I heard of the wall, but it seemed too big, too deep in the jungle and something to be put on the "well, maybe someday list." However, we decided to go for it, which was an incredible adventure in every sense.
I believe that with every major summit in climbing or life comes a great sense of satisfaction in the accomplishment and I feel that in the moment. However, if a certain goal just turns into a major sufferfest, it takes time to forget about the pain or fear. Only with the power of hindsight can you see the experience for what it was, something you won't forget. ( example: Black Canyon story below ).
What were your greatest failures / setbacks / injuries? How did you cope with them and how did you come back from them?
I've had a variety of injuries, thankfully nothing too serious but the most frustrating was my shoulder. It wasn't the worst injury per se, but it felt like I was being stabbed all day. I couldn't sleep because of the pain, and although it was a physical injury, it became a mental battle. I was driving to work one day and saw a dog with its head out the window, ears flapping, tongue out, smiling. I had a bit of a breakdown, it was then I realized that I hadn't been that happy in a long time, I'd forgotten what it was like. Eventually, I tried to climb, but by the time I was at the base of a 5.6 slab route I was in too much pain to even top rope. I did PT, took my time and tried again. I was climbing a 2 star 5.9 in Little Cottonwood with no pain. At last, I was a golden retriever with its head out of the window. It was easily one of my top 10 best days of climbing. In this moment I realized that climbing is something that is not only special to me but something I need.
What is your favorite climbing related story / experience?
There is definitely no way I can pick a favorite, so I'll just share the most recent one. We started repelling in the dark. The goal was to climb Astrodog in the Black Canyon in a day. If you're not familiar with the route, it's a 2000ft 11+, in which you start at the top, rap into the canyon, and climb out. It also happens to be one of my all-time favorite routes.
The rappels weren't going so well. It was hard to find the anchors in the dark, even though I've done this rappel twice before. There were a few small droplets of rain. We checked the forecast the day before and it called for a 10% chance of rain, we weren't initially concerned.
About 1000ft down the wall it started to pour. We were wet, our shoes were wet, and the rock was soaked. We stood on a small ledge, no words were exchanged until George, one of my best climbing partners, looked at me and said, "well, it doesn't count as a shiver bivy unless you're soaking wet."
We contemplated our options. If the rock was too wet to get up the route, then we'd have to go down. From there we'd have to navigate an unfamiliar choss gully that may not be possible, or cross the river and exit a gulley that we know, which would then require us to hitchhike the long drive back to the south side of the canyon. There was a 70% chance of rain the next day, so if we were forced to bivy and things would just get worse. All options were grim, this discussion was followed by more silence.
I was starting to shiver and I contemplated why I do this. I spent a lot of time and money to bring me here, and I don't want to be here at all. If I had applied this time and money to some other aspect of life, I'm sure I could accomplish a lot.
The weather hadn't improved, but we tried to climb anyway. George slipped and took the biggest fall I've ever seen him take. He injured his finger but continued on. We got to the two boulder bivy and the sun came out. It was glorious, we dried ourselves out and watched the rock dry up.The next few hundred feet of climbing was simply incredible. Swapping leads and cracking jokes while we moved fast and efficiently. I love the feeling of that vertical flow. Days when it feels like you are almost watching yourself climb. Hovering somewhere just outside your physical self, taking it all in. It was at this moment that I had answered my previous questions of doubt so perfectly. This is why I do this; this is why I am here.
We were 1 pitch from the top when it started to rain again. Then it started to pour. Then it started to hail and there were some lightning bolts striking down close by. The Black Canyon had sensed my joy and punished me for it. The last pitch starts with some runout slab in kind of a stemmy corner. I tried, but couldn't stick to anything. Still hailing I downclimbed back to the belay. "I'm pretty sure I can traverse to the left and circle back to the original exit," I said hastily as I set off into the unknown. Twenty feet out I looked back and explained, "So in hindsight I realized that sounded really confident, I'm really just winging this."
The climbing was easy and juggy, however, the rope drag was becoming unbearable. I would have to pitch this out. I was significantly run out until I found a perfect #1 crack. I stood on a small grassy ledge, placed the #1 and cloved into it. It was then that the ledge I was standing on collapsed. I fell onto the #1, the only piece of pro insight, and yelled "Rooooock!" into the void.
Normally I feel like such an event would bring about a moment of pause, but I was rather determined to get out of this ditch as soon as possible. It would be dark soon. I placed a second cam and belayed George up. He traversed to the left and built an anchor under a crack flake system that looked like it would top out.
Fifty feet of wet chossy rock was between us and the beer. Climbing choss is a skill and this day is a perfect example of why I believe people should go climb a zero star choss pile every once in a while.
The climbing was harder than expected. I envisioned falling, my cams blowing the hollow flake apart covering George in choss and myself decking next to him. I crimped the wet rock harder and topped out at last. I belayed George up, he gave me an "impressive lead" nod. We high-fived and walked back to the car.
With a warm dry jacket and a cold beer in hand, we looked into the canyon from the South Rim overlook. "So what should we climb tomorrow?"