Before We Were Climbers
Climbing Magazine covers a sport so all-encompassing we tend to forget that we haven’t always been climbers. Hell, it’s right there in the name: Climbing. But the truth is, we weren’t always climbers. Today’s 5.13 gym kids had to learn to walk before they started tugging on crimps, and at some point even Adam Ondra was playing with trucks in a sandbox. Before we got into climbing, we were all something else, and even after we get into climbing we still lead a life off the rocks.
One common denominator I’ve noticed in climbers’ lives is passion—they’ve always channeled that energy into some kind of pursuit. There’s Keenan Takahashi, the über-strong boulderer who was a talented street skater. (I skated too; I sucked. I boulder too; I suck.) Or the top all-arounder Emily Harrington, who was a downhill ski racer. Or Lynn Hill and John Gill, who were gymnasts. There are also climbers who parlayed their focus and intensity in the vertical into successful professional careers, like Hugh Herr, a pioneer in prosthetic invention. Or Jim Collins, with his best-selling business books. Or Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou, with her ABC Kids Climbing gym and coaching.
All have drive both on and off the rocks, and it’s informed who they’ve become and what they’ve accomplished in life’s many spheres.
One little-known tale is that of the early life of the iconic, 1970s/‘80s badass alpinist Mugs Stump, whose name has become synonymous with impeccable style on high peaks and big walls: unsupported, sometimes solo, on committing terrain with extreme technical difficulty. Some Stump standouts include the 1978 first ascent of the Emperor Face of Mount Robson, with Jamie Logan; and his 1981 ascent, with Jim Bridwell, of the Moose’s Tooth’s Dance of
the Woo Li Masters (VI 5.9 W14+ A4). But who was Mugs Stump before he was the Mugs Stump? Well, he was a football player—and a hard-driving, self-flagellating one at that—who almost tried out for and had a good shot at joining the NFL, as detailed in Nick Aiello-Popeo’s riveting feature “Ascendant” (p.50).
We rarely cover anything outside the confines of our little sport, but this story felt important. Yes, it centers on football—not climbing—but on its pages we begin to see the makings of the legend. We begin to see the grit that was in Stump all along, before he was a climber, and in so doing we catch glimpses of our own lives and the larger human story: our eternal quest for self-actualization. So who were you before you were a climber? Reach out at letters@
climbing.com and let us know. I bet you have an interesting tale to tell.
MUGS STUMP ( RIGHT) AND PILOT FRIEND AT THE DENALI LANDING STRIP, 1970S.