Be­fore We Were Clim­bers

Climbing - - ED NOTE - BY MATT SAMET

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@

climb­ and let us know. I bet you have an in­ter­est­ing tale to tell.


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