Reader Questions: Follow the Leader.

A few days ago I received a great question from a reader, and couldn't wait to answer.

Josh said... 

Hi Kris, I love your blog. Your posts have encouraged me to train harder and much more efficiently. I'm already seeing the results. You mention Dave Graham and his beautiful footwork (which I admire as well). Who are your favorite climbers, and what particular aspects of their climbing really stand out? I watch a lot of climbing videos, and I always try to pick up subtle techniques that usually do end helping when I'm in the gym or in the boulder field. I'd love your input so I may be an even more informed viewer.

 Josh, thanks for reading!  Your comment immediately brought to mind an interview that I read years ago, and often cite for the benefit of others.  In it, Dave Graham was asked about what the dynamic was like between himself, Luke Parady, and Joe Kinder when they were young, in the gym, and falling in love with climbing together.

He told the story of a game they would play, in which after completing a problem, they would repeat it in the style of all their heroes.  They'd do the problem static and graceful like Fred Nicole would do it.  Feet flying and leaping like Chris Sharma.  Or with the smooth as butter fluidity of Francois Legrand.  If you look closely, you can see all those climbers in the techniques of Dave, Luke, and Joe.  Those guys followed, and now they're the leaders. 

 Josh, if you're already picking up on some of the techniques in the videos, then you don't need my help to see more.  As you get better and better you'll begin to notice smaller bits of beta that will feel like big revelations to you... and that discovery is always an amazing feeling.  What I can do however, is give you a handful of things I've learned from a few top level climbers that you won't see in the videos.

Because of my music, I've had the opportunity to climb with many climbers much stronger than I, whom I greatly admire.  I treat every one of those opportunities like a school session.  I watch every aspect of what they do, from what they carry in their packs, to how they warm up, to how they respond to failure and success.  I've taken bits of each experience to build my own approach to climbing, one that I'm constantly reevaluating and rearranging. There are also the guys who I've only seen in the videos, like Fred Nicole and Yuji Hirayama, who ooze inspiration, but for me, the personal experiences have penetrated deeper.  These are those people... 

Chris Lindner, from the film Spray.

I've climbed with Chris Lindner a number of times, and everytime I'm left with the same feeling... this guy was born to be a rockclimber.  Watching him on the rock is no different.  He moves with authority and utter confidence... something we can all learn from.  Theres another element to his climbing that we've all experienced, but most of us have forgotten.  He moves with JOY.  Watching Chris climb, you get the feeling that he's having more fun than everyone else.  He makes it all look like monkey bars, and fools me into believing that I'd have just as much fun up there in the midst of a 5.14 crux.  When he starts up a route, he transforms back into that 9 year old kid doing his first 5.13, only with more focus and alot more muscle.  The first time I climbed with Chris was at Wild Iris, in Lander, Wyoming, and while his crew wanted to party the night away, Chris got to bed early so he could be up for the good morning temps.  I admire that seemingly rare combination of seriousness about your craft and absolute, unbridled love for it.  I've applied it to my own climbing, and it's only brought even more happiness.

Joe Kinder doing his best Vinny Barbarino impression.

You've heard it before... Joe is one of the most psyched people you will ever meet.  He can't talk about climbing without getting animated.  Obviously his climbing is impressive, and having him on the ground shouting encouragement has made me try harder on more than one occasion.  While Joe is a full time climber, with the skills to hustle a career out of it, what really stuck with me from time spent with Joe is the balance he has in his life.  On one hand, he flat out hustles. He's dedicated to it.  When it's time to treat climbing like a job, he may as well be in a suit and tie.  Professional.  But at the crag, he's more psyched than you are to see you succeed, and amped to try it for himself.  He's so sure of everyone elses abilities that he sometimes forgets that we all don't climb 14c.  On several occasions I've talked with Joe about what his next moves are, and often they involve making sure that his better half, Colette, is getting the environment she needs, instead of where the next best climbing destination for him is.  Thats an aspect of life that even weekend warriors forget to pay attention to, and they don't make their living by sending hard routes.  He makes both lives work, and work well.  It's a tough act to pull off, and one I've taken notes on. 

Angie Payne loving it.  Photo by Ben Alexandra.

I count Angie Payne among my best friends and most recent influences, on several levels.  I've bouldered with Angie in the gym several times (though strangely I've only climbed routes with her outside... her way of not completely crushing my ego?), and have been astounded by the core strength that she brings to bouldering.  I would spend all my energy controlling the inevitable swing from a move that I consider reachy, while 4" shorter, she somehow keeps her feet glued to tiny, distant holds and makes my projects look easy.  True, her deftness on small crimps is something I'll never have, but I can certainly learn from the way her entire body looks strong when she is moving.  More so than any climber I've ever watched, you can literally see the tension she applies, and the result is beautiful, controlled movement.   I aim for the same.   Despite her climbing genius, there are two things about Angie that stick with me the most.  First off, like I mentioned, outdoors I've only route climbed with Angie.  She isn't afraid to step down off the pedestal of being possibly the worlds strongest female boulderer to do something she doesn't excel at.  That attitude in her has made me more excited to boulder, and work on all of my weaknesses.  Second, and maybe the most obvious is her humility.  After coming back from injury, and before becoming the first woman to send a confirmed V13, Angie told me, almost in hushed tones, "I think I'm stronger now than I've ever been!".   Were it me, I'd have been shouting it!  As it is, she downplays her achievement by giving credit to everyone around her.  Recently while in the gym with her she asked a young guy, Alex, if she could work on a problem with him.  She asked his name and introduced herself.  Alex is a quiet kid to begin with, but he was rendered nearly speechless by being treated normally by someone he recognized as a superstar.   A true class act.

True Cowboy.  Photo by Keith Ladzinski.

 The first time I climbed with BJ Tilden went something like this...  We all hike up to Wild Iris and BJ spends the better part of the day showing us the classic 11's and 12's, coaching one of the group up her first lead, and showing us every inch of the crag, complete with move by move beta when we ask for it.  Late in the day we finally make it over to his project, a 14+ showcased in the film "CORE", and it's in the sun.  Of course, he knows Wild Iris better than nearly anyone, and knew exactly what time the wall got sun.  He chose to spend the best temps showing us around.  BJ nearly sent that day, despite the intro boulder problem being moves he only sticks "a couple times a summer".  While on belay, the size of the holds and the strain on his tendons was sickening to me... a feeling perfectly captured in the film.  If you haven't seen it... do.  With no sponsors (by choice... I watched him tell Five Ten, "I just want to wear what I want to wear"), a job doing carpentry, a house he's always working on, and a wife who is an amazing athlete herself, BJ forced me to reexamine my own values.  Unassuming and humble beyond belief, he is one of the strongest sport climbers in the country, and climbs with a smooth, quick style that gave me the first real inclination that crazy power could look like Clark Kent but produce like Superman.  Maybe it's just his Wyoming upbringing but every time I climb with him, he makes me want to be a better climber... and a better climbing partner.  And every time I drink a beer with him after climbing, I walk away already striving to be a better person.

Like I said, you're not going to see these things in the videos, but I'd be willing to bet that if you look around you, you'll find friends just like mine who all have something profound and inspiring to offer.