POR­TRAIT

On the road with climber and world-class chef Brit­tany Grif­fith.

Climbing - - CONTENTS - By James Lu­cas | Photos by An­drew Burr

THE SAM­BURU GOAT herder whit­tled a piece of cedar near the base­camp where Brit­tany Grif­fith and three other Amer­i­can climbers were stay­ing. The Amer­i­cans had come to es­tab­lish what be­came

100 Per­cent Not Los­ing (IV 5.13; 1,400 feet), on the south­east face of Kenya’s Mount Ololokwe. Grif­fith cooked beans, rice, and veg­gies for her part­ners and the herder. She com­mu­ni­cated to the tribesman that she needed a spat­ula, us­ing hand ges­tures, laugh­ter, and her three words of Swahili. A few min­utes later, he pre­sented the “gypsy” with a carved spoon, one she still uses daily at her home in Salt Lake City, Utah. For Grif­fith, trav­el­ing, climb­ing, and cook­ing have al­lowed her to con­nect with peo­ple the world over.

The 5’3” Brit­tany Anne Grif­fith, or “BAG,” has been ubiq­ui­tous on the world climb­ing cir­cuit for two decades. Now 48, she’s climbed 5.12 in over 50 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Al­ge­ria, Korea, and Cuba. From send­ing Smith Rock’s Oxy­gen (5.13b), to the 120-foot crack Trail of Tears (5.13b) in North Wash, Utah, to free­ing Moon­light But­tress (V 5.12d), to her first as­cents of 10 Pounds of Te­quila (VI 5.12+) in Venezuela and Bat­tling Be­go­nias (V 5.12) in Ye­men, Grif­fith is a ren­nais­sance woman, known not only for her di­verse climb­ing abil­ity but also her black belt in taek­wondo, com­pet­i­tive moun­tain-bik­ing ca­reer, and, most im­por­tantly, culi­nary skills. Grif­fith’s self-de­scribed “Gypsy Kitchen” cook­ing style in­volves us­ing avail­able in­gre­di­ents to pro­duce food that brings to­gether peo­ple across dif­fer­ent cul­tures.

“I WAS OUT­SIDE as much as I could be,” says Grif­fith of her child­hood in Ames, Iowa, an agri­cul­tural town of 50,000 peo­ple, 20 miles north of Des Moines. The old­est of four sib­lings, Grif­fith grew up in­de­pen­dent. Her mom, a nurse, re­mar­ried three times, and Grif­fith of­ten babysat her younger sib­lings. When Grif­fith was six, her mom bought her an Easy-Bake Oven; Grif­fith cooked the seven pre-pack­aged meals in a week and then started mak­ing her own recipes. At age 12, she pre­pared the fam­ily’s Thanks­giv­ing turkey. In high school, Grif­fith played bas­ket­ball and soft­ball and ran track. In col­lege, she earned a black belt in taek­wondo—and caught the travel bug. While at the Univer­sity of Iowa in Iowa City, Grif­fith took a se­mes­ter abroad in Lon­don, Eng­land. “That was mind-blow­ing,” says Grif­fith, who trav­eled to eight Euro­pean coun­tries in four months. Ini­tially, Grif­fith felt over­whelmed. She washed her hair in the sink to avoid in­ter­ac­tions at the com­mu­nal youth-hos­tel bath­rooms. But by the trip’s end, she be­came com­fort­able. “I knew that I wanted to travel. I just didn’t know how I would do it,” she re­calls.

In 1994, af­ter col­lege, Grif­fith’s then-boyfriend asked if she wanted to go on a climb­ing road trip. Though she’d never been climb­ing, the idea of travel ap­pealed to her. On the drive from Iowa to Vedau­woo, Grif­fith read John Long’s book How to Rock Climb! She learned to tie a fig­ure-8 and equal­ize an an­chor be­fore ever touch­ing

rock. She climbed in Poudre Canyon, Colorado, City of Rocks, Idaho, and Lit­tle Cot­ton­wood Canyon, Utah, be­fore end­ing up in Bend, Ore­gon. Low on money, Grif­fith worked at a gym­nas­tics gym in Bend, teach­ing taek­wondo. When her boyfriend wanted to buy a house and stay in Bend, Grif­fith hit the road.

For the next few years, Grif­fith fol­lowed the 1990s sport-climb­ing cir­cuit, go­ing to Ri­fle, Smith Rock, the Vir­gin River Gorge, and Bu­oux, France. In 2001, she spent a year rac­ing down­hill moun­tain bikes at a pro­fes­sional level, com­pet­ing in a cou­ple of World Cups. To her mind, she was bet­ter at bik­ing than climb­ing. “I’m not a very tal­ented climber,” Grif­fith says. “I’m brave and like ad­ven­ture. That’s re­ally the only thing.”

De­spite her ap­ti­tude at moun­tain bik­ing, Grif­fith re­turned to climb­ing. She painted houses. She babysat. She worked odd jobs, liv­ing out of an RV with her then boyfriend, pro climber Joe Brooks. “I just wanted to work so I could pay for the next tank of gas in the RV or the next flight to Paris,” she says.

Dur­ing that pe­riod, she went to Out­door Re­tailer where she met rep­re­sen­ta­tives at Five Ten. She tran­si­tioned to

“I’m not a very tal­ented climber. I’m brave and like ad­ven­ture. That’s re­ally the only thing.”

“Climb­ing is ev­ery­thing: It’s my job, it’s my ex­er­cise, it’s my com­mu­nity, it’s my life­style. But food is my pas­sion.”

build­ing trade-show booths and driv­ing Five Ten’s rental truck to the trade show—her first in­dus­try jobs. “I never had the ap­proach of ‘What can you do for me?’ It was al­ways ‘What can I do for you?’” says Grif­fith. That at­ti­tude helped her get work with Patag­o­nia, where, since 1999, she has helped pro­duce the Rhythm climb­ing line and worked as an event co­or­di­na­tor, vis­ual mer­chan­diser, cat­a­logue copy­writer, and prod­uct tester.

IN 2013, GRIF­FITH, An­drew Burr, and Jonathan Th­e­senga trav­eled to So­co­tra Is­land off Ye­men. Here, Grif­fith made one of her proud­est first as­cents, Bat

tling Be­go­nias (V 5.12), in the Hag­gier Moun­tains. On this trip, Grif­fith felt more com­pelled to take the reins af­ter spend­ing two days amidst the po­lit­i­cal un­rest of Sana’a. When the team left Sana’a, they hired a fish­er­man to take them deep-wa­ter solo­ing. Af­ter they fin­ished climb­ing, the fish­er­man sold his catch to an­other ves­sel. The other boat’s fish­er­men didn’t like be­ing pho­tographed by Burr and started fir­ing shots. “Noth­ing in climb­ing could scare me more,” she re­calls. At the base of Bat­tling Be­go­nias, Grif- fith grabbed the rack, lead­ing the lower pitches, the fourth-pitch crux (a 5.12 fin­ger-crack di­he­dral), a 5.11 dou­ble-crack pitch, and then runout 5.10 to the top. “I just wanted to feel not scared,” Grif­fith says. She found com­fort on the rock.

“She’s my fa­vorite in­ter­na­tional climb­ing part­ner,” says Kate Ruther­ford, who has climbed across the world with Grif­fith, en­ter­ing the Croa­t­ian In­ter­na­tional Climber Fes­ti­val’s big-wall speed climb­ing con­test, where they raced up a 130-me­ter 5.10 in 12

min­utes. While es­tab­lish­ing 10 Pounds of Te­quila, with Ruther­ford, Th­e­senga, and Mikey Schae­fer on Venezuela’s Aco­pan Tepui in 2010, Grif­fith brought 10 pounds of te­quila so the team could drink Ga­torhi­tas cock­tails (te­quila and Ga­torade). It was a welcome treat while they la­bored over eight days to es­tab­lish their 1,100-foot route. Ear­lier this year, Grif­fith and Ruther­ford trav­eled to Tor­res del Paine, Patag­o­nia. How­ever, rain forced them to hide in the Ja­panese Camp. For Ruther­ford, Grif­fith’s cook­ing made the grim weather bear­able. “She can make ramen and tuna taste gourmet,” Ruther­ford says. While rain and snow pounded the moun­tains, Grif­fith made co­conut sar­dine Thai stew served over rice, gar­nished with fresh mint and oregano.

“She takes what­ever is avail­able and makes a dish out of it,” Salt Lake City climber Steve Maisch says. “You’ll have a bunch of ran­dom things, left­overs from the pre­vi­ous night and a can of some­thing, and she’ll make a good meal out of it.” Dur­ing a 2016 sum­mer trip to Rock­lands, Grif­fith prepped an English break­fast of eggs, beans, and ba­con for Maisch and the other boul­der­ers she stayed with. At night, they ate steak and stuffed gem squash, which she’s since started grow­ing in her back­yard. “It’s a gen­uine way for me to ex­press emo­tion,” says Grif­fith of cook­ing for her fel­low climbers. “It’s a way I can care for peo­ple.” Per­haps it goes back to look­ing af­ter her younger sib­lings in Iowa.

“Climb­ing is ev­ery­thing: It’s my job, it’s my ex­er­cise, it’s my com­mu­nity, it’s my life­style,” says Grif­fith. “But food is my pas­sion.” While many climbers want to tick harder grades, Grif­fith’s goals in­clude putting to­gether a Gypsy Kitchen cook­book. So far she has filled three com­po­si­tion books, and is writ­ing a hun­dred words a day. Her writ­ing ex­plores the re­la­tion­ship be­tween climb­ing, trav­el­ing, cook­ing, and how peo­ple con­nect. “You can cook an onion and a potato with some­one and have a mean­ing­ful ex­pe­ri­ence,” she says. In 2011, Grif­fith trav­eled to Zion Na­tional Park to free Moon­light

But­tress. Un­for­tu­nately, her part­ner caught food poi­son­ing. I’d been try­ing the route as well, and Grif­fith texted me. The next morn­ing, Grif­fith and I made a free as­cent of the route, swing­ing leads. Af­ter our first day out climb­ing to­gether, we went to Spring­dale, just out­side the park, and drank mar­gar­i­tas. Grif­fith as­sured me that she made bet­ter ones at home.

Over the next six years, I would stop by Grif­fith’s house to bake a pie for a trade-show party or do a tabata work­out next to her gar­den. Within five min­utes of ar­riv­ing, I’d be car­ry­ing her le­mon tree out­side, or juli­en­ning car­rots or grilling meat­balls for a cater­ing event, which she does a half-dozen times a year. Once, I of­fered to mow her lawn—but then I broke the mower. Liv­ing out of my car at the time, I was gripped about the cost of re­pairs. Grif­fith shrugged off the dam­ages and made me a sand­wich. It was in­cred­i­ble: Two pieces of freshly cooked bread (she learned how to bake bread in the sand in Al­ge­ria), deli meat, and veg­eta­bles from her gar­den. A sim­ple sand­wich, but full of good­ness and fla­vor. While the fresh, high-qual­ity in­gre­di­ents helped, it was Grif­fith’s prepa­ra­tion that made the sand­wich spe­cial. As she says, “When I cook for some­one, it’s al­ways with af­fec­tion.”

BRIT­TANY GRIF­FITH IN YE­MEN, ATOP DAFLAG PEAK AF­TER TOP­PING OUT THE FA OF BAT­TLING BE­GO­NIAS (V 5.12), 2013.

BUYING PRO­DUCE AT THE FARMER’S MAR­KET IN MESA DE LOS SAN­TOS, COLOM­BIA.

GRIF­FITH ON DOG DAY AF­TER­NOON (5.11D), LIT­TLE EGYPT, CAL­I­FOR­NIA.

GRIF­FITH ON ECHO (5.11C), MT. SEORAKSAN NA­TIONAL PARK, SOUTH KOREA.

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