Un­der­stand­ing What You’re Part Of


Climbing - - THE CLIMB PORTRAIT - By Amanda Ash­ley

For years, a young Kris Hamp­ton “ap­pro­pri­ated” mat­tresses to prac­tice gym­nas­tics in a lo­cal park.

“I HAVE TO COM­MIT NOW,” Kris Hamp­ton thought half­way up the swell of Transworld De­prav­ity (5.14a) at the Mother­lode, in the Red River Gorge. “There’s no choice.” On a week­end trip to the RRG in late spring 2014, a few weeks be­fore his for­ti­eth birth­day, Hamp­ton had tied in be­low his project. If he sent, it would be his first 5.14. Drainage from the for­est above soaked the top third of the route. But Hamp­ton had been train­ing, putting his own self-de­vel­oped prin­ci­ples into prac­tice, and he felt strong. It was now or never.

At the sec­ond crux, a lat­eral move off slop­ing crimps, Hamp­ton sur­prised him­self and the crowd of about 35 climbers watch­ing be­low as he linked through the sec­tion. The crowd roared. A fi­nal 50-foot stretch of wet 5.13b guarded the chains. Hamp­ton sprinted for a pair of in­cut crimps where he hoped to shake out. Un­for­tu­nately, his hands landed in pud­dles. He kept climb­ing. One move from the an­chors, with wet hands and swollen fore­arms, Hamp­ton fell. As he was be­ing low­ered, he re­mem­bers think­ing, “I’ve never felt as good climb­ing as I did be­ing low­ered off that route with the chains un­clipped.” Later that year, in Oc­to­ber, Hamp­ton re­turned for a proper send, but the failed at­tempt had been much more mean­ing­ful. “Every­one was go­ing crazy, and in that mo­ment, it all came to­gether,” re­calls Hamp­ton. “I thought, ‘ This is my tribe and th­ese are my peo­ple.’”

TO­DAY, KRIS HAMP­TON is 42. Raised in Cincin­nati, where he lived for decades, he’s now in the process of mov­ing to Lan­der, Wy­oming. Hamp­ton has al­ways been the quiet guy in the cor­ner. At 5’8” with a lean, mus­cled 145-pound frame, Hamp­ton ex­udes a stead­fast pres­ence be­hind a pair of glacial-blue eyes. His calm per­haps comes from his roots, hav­ing to re­main cen­tered while grow­ing up amidst a tur­bu­lent fam­ily life in Cincin­nati, bag­gage he car­ried through his early-adult years when he earned a crim­i­nal con­vic­tion for steal­ing car stereos. Or per­haps it’s just who he is, an

ob­ser­vant, in­tense, con­sid­ered pres­ence. Through­out it all, Hamp­ton has been a self-made man—you may know him through his fame as a climb­ing em­cee, us­ing the han­dle “Odub,” a nick­name based on his traddy/ of­fwidth days at the Red. Or per­haps you’ve heard of him more re­cently, as his Power Com­pany Climb­ing train­ing busi­ness takes off, both at the En­gine Room at Rock­Quest Climb­ing Cen­ter, his home gym in Cincin­nati, and in dig­i­tal form through his pod­cast and apps. Or per­haps you even know him as a dad on the ABS cir­cuit, where his daugh­ter, Katy, was a com­peti­tor from 2006 to 2009.

In 1987, Kris Hamp­ton, then 13, was just an­other kid play­ing on the streets of Cincin­nati’s gritty High­point neigh­bor­hood. The area was pop­u­lated by Ap­palachian fam­i­lies who’d mi­grated north for fac­tory work—it was an all-white, racist, rough com­mu­nity. One day on his way home from school, Hamp­ton wan­dered by Queen City Gym­nas­tics, stop­ping to watch the gym­nasts prac­tice through the win­dows. The way they moved—their grace and power and ath­leti­cism—fas­ci­nated him. He crawled into a dump­ster be­hind a mat­tress fac­tory and fished out some dis­carded mat­tresses. For the next three years, Hamp­ton “ap­pro­pri­ated” the mat­tresses to prac­tice gym­nas­tics in the park. At 16, he stopped watch­ing and took a class at Queen City; within six months, he started teach­ing and coach­ing. Back at home, he clashed with his step­dad, who was only 10 years his se­nior. A fight be­tween the two led his mom to press as­sault charges against the young Hamp­ton. He spent a few weeks at the Hamil­ton County Ju­ve­nile De­ten­tion Cen­ter, and then never re­turned home.

Hav­ing es­caped fam­ily ten­sions, Hamp­ton fo­cused on the art pro­grams at high school. His art teacher be­came his sec­ond mother, and art be­came his sec­ond es­cape. Hamp­ton stud­ied the sim­ple, stark, and lonely paint­ings of Ed­ward Hop­per, whose por­trayal of light and cap­tured “empti­ness” struck him. Mean­while, mu­sic, specif­i­cally hip-hop, spoke to him. In 1986, when the Beastie Boys’ Li­censed to Ill came out, rap­per Mike D wore a VW sym­bol on a chain. Hamp­ton stole a VW bus logo and wore it for a few days to em­u­late his mu­si­cal in­spi­ra­tion. He left the logo hang­ing in a friend’s base­ment and moved on to steal­ing stereos and cars. “I never sold or kept the stereos or cars,” Hamp­ton says, “I gave it all away. I have no idea where any of that stuff ended up.” In 1993, his luck ran out, and Hamp­ton along with three friends was ar­rested for steal­ing car stereos in Spring­dale, Ohio.

The day he fin­ished his six-month sen­tence at the Queens­gate Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity, Hamp­ton bought a gym mem­ber­ship at Climb Time in Cincin­nati—Hamp­ton had climbed at the gym twice be­fore, and he knew he’d need a pas­sion upon his re-en­try into so­ci­ety to stay out of trou­ble. Af­ter the first month, he started sweep­ing the gym floors in ex­change for a mem­ber­ship. In­door climb­ing quickly led to climb­ing at the Red River Gorge, two and a half hours away. Within a few months, he climbed Ro Shampo (5.12a) and led his first trad route, the 120-foot di­he­dral crack Road­side At­trac­tion (5.7), with his friend Ray Elling­ton, the RRG guide­book author. As Hamp­ton set off on the lead, Elling­ton passed him the rack and said only, “If they don’t fall out, then you placed them right.” The eth­i­cal rigor and ob­scu­rity of trad climb­ing drew Hamp­ton in. Teamed up with

“He’s unique among coaches be­cause he tests his sug­ges­tions out on him­self first.” —YASMEEN FOWLER

Elling­ton, he pushed trad stan­dards at the Red, with such first as­cents as

Coun­try Lovin’ (5.12b), an of­fwidth roof at the In­dian Creek crag; Vas­cu­lar

Mas­sacre (5.12a), a di­he­dral at Clearcut Wall; and Pis­tol Ridge’s 40-foot of­fwidth roof boul­der prob­lem When

Doves Cry (5.12b/V5). In 1997, Hamp­ton be­came a fa­ther. He’d dated Katy’s mother, but they were no longer to­gether when she learned of her preg­nancy. The pair tried to make it work, but dif­fer­ent par­ent­ing styles forced them apart. Learn­ing to be­come a fa­ther meant re­al­iz­ing how he’d been raised and ob­serv­ing who was suc­cess­ful as a par­ent and who wasn’t. Hamp­ton made sure Katy felt loved, safe, and happy. She spent her youth in the USA Climb­ing com­pe­ti­tion cir­cuit, go­ing on climb­ing trips with her fa­ther. “I loved climb­ing with him—it was our bond­ing time,” says Katy. “He was a big in­spi­ra­tion with climb­ing, but mu­sic is su­per im­por­tant to me, and when we’d be in the car, we al­ways sang along. I knew most rap songs by the time I was six.”

The same year Katy was born, Hamp­ton be­gan paint­ing mu­rals and dec­o­ra­tive wall fin­ishes, a job he held un­til 2015. He of­ten spent weeks per­fect­ing an in­stal­la­tion on a ceil­ing, walls, or floors. His work con­sisted mainly of land­scapes, old-world fin­ishes, and faux-wood grain­ing. START­ING IN EARLY 2002, Hamp­ton took a four-year hia­tus from climb­ing. Still, it re­mained an in­flu­ence. He wrote songs about his pas­sion for of­fwidth climb­ing, which the stu­dio guys at Powerblast World­wide in Cincin­nati found hi­lar­i­ous. They be­gan call­ing him “Of­fwidth,” which was quickly short­ened to “Odub.” His mu­sic gained trac­tion on­line, pro­moted through Mys­pace and on­line mu­sic shar­ing. Hamp­ton em­ceed climb­ing fes­ti­vals like the New River Ren­dezvous, Outdoor Re­tailer, 24 Hours of Horse­shoe Hell, the In­ter­na­tional Climbers Fes­ti­val in Lan­der, and count­less gym events. He recorded a half-dozen al­bums with Risk Record­ing, made mix­tapes, and con­trib­uted mu­sic to a half-dozen climb­ing films. In 2009, Hamp­ton recorded “Float,” a song he wrote and per­formed with Misty Mur­phy, as a trib­ute to Todd Skin­ner, who died in Yosemite in 2006. Through “Float” he be­came close friends with Skin­ner’s wife, Amy, and her fam­ily, who in­tro­duced him to his fi­ancée, An­nalissa Pur­dum.

In time, per­form­ing for the climb­ing com­mu­nity led Hamp­ton back to the rock. Here, he strug­gled on easy climbs. Want­ing to im­prove, Hamp­ton dove into re­search: He re­called his gym­nas­tics coach­ing, stud­ied Eric Horst’s Train­ing for Climb­ing and Dou­glas Hunter’s The Self-Coached Climber, and read and reread ev­ery climb­ing-mag­a­zine train­ing ar­ti­cle he could find. Seek­ing mo­ti­va­tion, he re­called a com­ment that the RRG guide­book author John Bronaugh once made on an on­line mes­sage board: “Kris Hamp­ton in not an over­achiever. He is an un­der­achiever. He does just enough to get no­ticed and then he dis­ap­pears.” Bronaugh was right—Hamp­ton had never truly ap­plied him­self. He made 5.13 his goal and be­gan train­ing for the Red’s en­duro-blast style. On Oc­to­ber 27, 2007, roughly a year af­ter re­turn­ing to climb­ing, he sent Ap­palachian Spring, a 5.13a at Funk Rock City in the East­ern Gorge. As other climbers at the gym

and in the Red saw the re­sults, Hamp­ton be­came an in­for­mal coach.

See­ing oth­ers suc­ceed in turn in­spired Hamp­ton. The more he trained oth­ers, the more he liked it. He started a blog, named it the Power Com­pany, and be­gan record­ing what he was learn­ing about coach­ing and train­ing. Hamp­ton soon de­vel­oped a fol­low­ing of climbers who ap­pre­ci­ated his straight­for­ward, ded­i­cated ap­proach. He trained fel­low Cincin­na­tians and started writ­ing train­ing plans and coach­ing clients long-dis­tance “He’s unique among coaches be­cause he tests his sug­ges­tions out on him­self first,” long­time friend and climber Yasmeen Fowler says. “He trains along­side you in­stead of just coach­ing you. You wit­ness his ac­com­plish­ments that were at­tained us­ing the same train­ing tech­niques he’s pre­scrib­ing for you.”

For Hamp­ton, life was good: He was work­ing as a suc­cess­ful artist, climb­ing bet­ter than ever, and de­vel­op­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as a coach. Then, in 2015, it all tore apart—lit­er­ally. His right shoul­der, com­pro­mised from 18 years of repet­i­tive use at work, fi­nally gave way. Com­mis­sioned to repli­cate a hun­dred-year-old room, Hamp­ton hand-ap­plied, sanded, and pol­ished nine lay­ers of stain and wax. The work tore his labrum and supraspina­tus, as well as par­tially tear­ing and shred­ding his bi­cep ten­don. He strug­gled to lift his arm. Surgery in April 2015 re­paired the tears and re­sulted in a bi­cep ten­ode­sis: Doc­tors cut out the shred­ded piece of bi­cep ten­don and at­tached what was re­main­ing to the humerus, rather than to the labrum. Af­ter surgery, Hamp­ton threw him­self into re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and train­ing; his shoul­der healed well. He could climb six months post-op, but it took 18 months to re­gain full strength. The down­time gave Hamp­ton the opportunity to re­al­ize the full po­ten­tial of a project he’d been work­ing on for a long time.

As Hamp­ton re­cov­ered, he de­vel­oped the Power Com­pany into an on­line, app-based train­ing pro­to­col, based off his old blogs and train­ing plans. He launched a pod­cast, im­proved his web­site, and ex­panded Power Com­pany Climb­ing. “The thing I find most valu­able about Kris as a coach is that he per­son­al­izes and con­tin­u­ally evolves the train­ing plans,” says Power Com­pany ath­lete Meghan McGuire, a 43-year-old mom, ac­tress, and mar­ket­ing man­ager for a For­tune 500 com­pany who climbs mid-5.11s. The Power Com­pany has thou­sands of clients do­ing ebook plans and al­most 100 peo­ple us­ing the app. Their Face­book com­mu­nity group fea­tures lively, in­ter­est­ing dis­cus­sions on train­ing—part of the com­mu­nity as­pect of his work that Hamp­ton finds so re­ward­ing.

In early March 2017, Hamp­ton trav­eled to Al­bu­querque, New Mex­ico, to work with Molly Ren­nie, a mom and high school teacher whom he’d been coach­ing on­line since Novem­ber 2015. “He started show­ing me the way the body moves and how to make it move bet­ter,” Ren­nie says. In the past two years, Ren­nie’s abil­ity sky­rock­eted. She placed four­teenth at Boul­der­ing Na­tion­als in Jan­uary 2016, has sent double-digit boul­ders, and com­peted at the Vail World Cup. In New Mex­ico, the pair boul­dered on Triple Mul­let, a V10 at a col­lec­tion of welded-tuff boul­ders called the Pond, near Pon­derosa. The climb tra­verses up­wards on slopey rails to a pow­er­ful move to a gas­ton. To­gether, they spent an hour de­ci­pher­ing the beta. They both even­tu­ally hucked to the gas­ton. Nei­ther quite stuck it, but for Ren­nie it was solid progress on a lo­cal project. She was stoked.

“That’s why I do this,” Hamp­ton says. “That same high that you get when you make a break­through, I get it when I watch that light­bulb come on for a client.”




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