"At first, there is just this piece of rock, a random piece of earth. When you discover a way to interact with it, it can almost become a work of art. With the right people and the right attitude, we can really transform our surroundings."
What does climbing mean to you?
For me, climbing is so much more than just a sport. My life has been connected to climbing in many ways since I was a little kid. As I grew up as a person, I also grew up as a climber.
Climbing is a sport and we can compare our achievements to those of other people. But it is also a personal journey. Climbing enables me to just be myself and completely do my own thing. Besides doing first ascents, one of the things that has always attracted me to climbing is the opportunity to discover new cliffs and bolt new lines.
A big step in my path as a climber was going from repeating routes to actually establishing new routes. I am grateful to all the people who showed me the way to climbing. However, when I started going out seeking cliffs and bolting new lines, I took the step of developing my own vision for climbing. It was a really liberating moment for me.
When and where did you start opening new routes?
The process of making first ascents goes back to when I started climbing. I would go bouldering with my friends and we would discover new things by chance, brushing the rocks a little bit and then we would start to create a new climb. Later on, I did the same when traveling to places like Hueco Tanks and parts of Utah.
The next big step was applying the same approach to opening routes for rope climbing. The process of bolting a line is much more complicated, because it requires a lot more work and logistics. You have to actually put the bolts in. For me, it was a huge, eye-opening experience. It was really satisfying to create a path, something that other people can enjoy. A route that is going to be there for ages, something that people can come back to and try.
The whole process is amazing. At first, it’s just this piece of rock, a random piece of earth. When you discover a way to interact with it, it can almost become a work of art. It’s awesome how climbing can cross over from being a sport to actually being an art form. For me, these routes or boulder problems are like sculptures.
I think that I have managed to leave a mark on climbing through the routes I have created. I have always tried to find beautiful and spectacular routes in special locations. Part of what inspires me to climb is being in these beautiful places.
What makes a climbing area special?
In general, what I look for are places that are beautiful, have nice rock and are somehow inspiring.
But I think every situation is unique. I have had the privilege of traveling to the most beautiful cliffs in the world. That makes it easy for me to have high standards. But, for example, when I was living in my hometown of Santa Cruz, I used to climb on a small bouldering wall by the beach. By every standard, it’s not a world-class place worth traveling to. It’s just a little wall, with a bunch of holds on it. But because it’s all we had, we really cherished that place. And I think our attitude transformed it into a world-class place for ourselves.
I truly believe that with the right attitude, we can really transform our surroundings. We can be in the most perfect place in the world and not appreciate it at all. On the contrary, with the right people and the right attitude, we can transform any place into the best place in the world. So much of it has to do with our mindset.
In German, we call it a “Klettergarten” or “climbing garden”. What do you think of this term?
To call a climbing place a garden is cool and kind of appropriate, I guess. I think it is a good name for the places where we climb, because they are meeting points for people. In Oliana, you can clearly see that people come together to experience climbing and nature, to enjoy climbing with friends and family.
What is the most inspiring place that you have seen?
There are so many inspiring places for me. Angel Falls, for example, is probably one of the most spectacular places I have ever been in my life. And then Mallorca – with psicobloc climbing over the sea, it is without a doubt my favorite place to go every year.
But again, while it’s easy for me to be picky, many people don’t have the luxury to travel to these exotic destinations. But I think the reality is that you can also find the most amazing places in your backyard. A lot of it depends on your attitude.
What future do you see for climbing? Do you think popular places will become crowded and dirty?
There are certainly going to be more crowds in climbing places. I think there is a good and a bad side to it. On the one hand, now is a special time in our sport, as it is developing and growing a lot. More and more people are discovering this fantastic activity, which can change their lives in the same amazing way it changed our lives. On the other hand, this same process will result in certain areas becoming crowded and the environmental impact of rock climbing will increase. Some people may be skeptical about the growth and overcrowding, but I think we need to work together as a community to find a solution, to educate people to behave in the right way and to be respectful of everyone.
Once upon a time, I was a beginner too. When I came to the crag, I was welcomed. This is why I was attracted to climbing and that’s what I want to continue to share with people. One of the things that is unique about our sport is that the community of climbers is still relatively small and we are like a family. We need to preserve this. We need to remember that we are all climbers and we must never forget our roots. And then, we need to take protective measures to make sure we respect the environment and manage everything in the right way.
In the end, the feeling should be the same for everybody. Whether you try a 9b or a 5c – the idea is to try something that pushes you to your limits. Climbing is about getting out of your comfort zone, trying something that you don’t believe you can do and then, through this process, discovering that it is possible. You realize that you are capable of something more than you thought. That really is a universal experience. And it is the essence of climbing. More than saying that you’ve climbed a 9b, it’s about experiencing this process. So I think anyone who enjoys climbing in this way is a legitimate climber, who deserves just as much respect as me or anybody else.
What advice would you give to a young bolter who wants to start opening routes?
Some people are of the opinion that more climbers should be involved in putting up new routes. Of course, as a community, we should be grateful to other people who do this work. But I don’t believe that everybody should be doing it, because it actually requires a lot of experience. You can ruin a cliff if you bolt it the wrong way. You can create safety hazards for other people. Climbers trust their lives to the bolts that some developers put in.
If a climber would like to set up a new route, I would recommend that they consult somebody with a lot of experience to help them. When bolting, it is not about the quantity of routes, but about quality. There’s a fine line between creating a work of art and defacing nature. I think bolting is something that requires good judgement, which comes from experience.
If you have only been climbing for a few years, you shouldn’t bother with that. Focus on developing your climbing, climb in different places and understand what makes a good route. This will give you a better perspective on how to do it right.
It’s an interesting subject, but there’s no regulatory process for this right now.
Should there be?
I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea for there to be some regulation. I would be interested in there being some certification for bolting. But it is a delicate line. If you think about the regulations in the building industry, about everything that needs to be approved by engineers, I am pretty sure that it would be impossible to approve the routes we climb using similar measures. So, we will need to find some sort of balance.