Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wild Moves On The Rock, Part I of II

I met Joe when we were both climbing alone in April of 2010. I went climbing outdoors for the first time with Joe (Mike and Patti) and this interview was conducted while we were on the way back from that outdoor stint.

‘Drea: How long have you been climbing?

Joe: I’ve been climbing since 2005. So, about five years.

‘Drea: And how does your friend convince you to go climbing if you’re apprehensive about heights?

Joe: Well, I think he helped me to frame it as an opportunity to conquer my fear of heights and the way that he described how fun it is was pretty compelling and I also loved being outside anyway. So, I thought the worst thing that could happen is that I would be unable to do it but I'd be able to enjoy a day outside.

‘Drea: That’s a good way to look at it. Did you like it the first time that you went?

Joe: Sort of (chuckling). The first time that we went, we started off with a rappel off a 90 foot overhang and I had the harness on and I was all geared up and it was time to just roll out over the edge and keep myself from plummeting to my death by pulling the break of the rope and my friend had to, very patiently, talk me through that. It probably took 15 minutes to get me to roll out over the edge.

‘Drea: What did he tell you?

Joe: He said it’s really safe. It’s really simple. It’s okay to take my time. It’s gonna be okay. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. It’s really fun once you get out there.


‘Drea: That sounds like a good friend…Did you ever take any classes at the gym?

Joe: Uh-uh.... No classes.

‘Drea: So, everything you know about rock climbing, you learned from your friend?

Joe: Mm-hmm, basically.

‘Drea: What else did he teach you about rock climbing?

Joe: Safety was always really important with him and now it’s really important with me. So, he would talk about all these different kinds of knots and pieces of equipment that you could use to make different, safe contraptions for top roping and various things you would want to do...hitches or something but, mostly, I think I learned from him how to be a little bit mentally tougher than I would naturally be able to be because his fingers would just be dripping blood and he would be just making these wild moves on the rock knowing that if he fell, he would just be caught by the rope.

‘Drea: Is this with bouldering? (Duh, bouldering is not done with ropes.)

Joe: This was with wall climbing but also with bouldering he would be 20 feet up in the air and making wild moves and it was just like whoa.

Patti: That doesn’t sound very safe to me.


Joe: We had extra crash pads if we were bouldering and we had very safe equipment if we were on the wall.

‘Drea: So, it was nothing that he told you; it was just by example with him tackling problems?

Joe: I think that what I learned the most out of how to tie a figure eight and all kind of things he taught me; that's what really sticks with me.

'Drea: So, how did you feel when you went up the first route? Like, was it hard? Did you scamper up pretty easily?

Joe: It was very hard and it was at St. Francois (State Park) and there are, like, five routes at St. Francois and two of them are very moderate. So, we had very limited options but it was gorgeous and we started off at the top of the cliff and then rappelled down and climbed back up and so I was already having this kind of mystical, nature experience from being at the top of the cliff, rappelling down before we even started trying to climb back up. So that helped me even though I was scared and, even though it was hard, I kept plugging away.

‘Drea: Did you get better by following his example and just continuing to climb routes until you got it?

Joe: Yes, we did that and we also tried to -- we were really out on a mission to be able to climb 5.12’s. We did pull-up workout routines when we couldn’t get to the gym. We tried to climb at least three times a week which was the biggest part and we built a climbing wall in the garage of my house.

‘Drea: Sweet.

Joe: Yeah and then we would be bouldering, pretty much, on a daily basis.

‘Drea: Did he tell you anything else about technique or you just watched him and kinda mimicked what he was doing? Anything about drop knees? Matching feet?

Joe: He was always coaching all the time. So, yeah, all the techniques…he was both really encouraging and also telling me things to try…but it’s kind of funny; we have two pretty different techniques because he’s 6’4 and, like, over 200 pounds. I’m just under six feet and I’m like 150 pounds. And he’s really, really strong...but I really enjoy figuring out how to place my body so that I can make use of the hand holds and the foot holds and I usually tend not to be super-fast. I’m not a sprinter when I’m climbing but I enjoy really feeling the holds and feeling the different positions that I can get my body into to be helpful for getting to the next move.

‘Drea: So, you’re more like a detective on the route?

Joe: I like that idea. Yeah, but I’ve gotten more efficient. I used to be such a detective that I would be in one spot forever and my friend would be like, okay, we only have four more hours.

‘Drea: So, how many marathons have you done?

Joe: I’ve done two marathons.

‘Drea: Are you planning on doing anymore?

Joe: Heck, no!


‘Drea: You’re hanging up your marathon hat?

Joe: That’s right. Yeah.

‘Drea: Did you do half or full?

Joe: Full.

‘Drea: Oh yeah, I would hang up my hat too. Do you play any other sports?

Joe: I love playing ultimate Frisbee but I don’t get to often but I hope to get back to it in the future.

‘Drea: Is that a team sport?

Joe: It’s like soccer or football but it’s with a Frisbee. I love soccer. I love basketball. I still enjoy trail running just not marathons. I really like playing any sport.

‘Drea: Me too. I mean, for the most part. I don’t know anything about soccer but I like to watch it. It’s just looks like and all-around good sport to play that requires agility. You have running...

Joe: And ultimate Frisbee is like that too. You might like it.

‘Drea: Are you in a league in this area?

Joe: No, we had a weekly, basically, a pick-up game but there were regulars who always came on Saturday afternoons in Webster Groves and, then, I would try to jump into other games if I could.

‘Drea: So, how are you going to convince your wife to get into rock climbing?


Joe: I’m still working that out. If you have any insights, please let me know.

‘Drea: What did she say when she went climbing?

Joe: She said it really wasn’t her thing. She didn’t feel like she could get up the rocks and she’s scared of heights. She didn’t see the point.


‘Drea: And what do you think the point of rock climbing is?

(Mike, Joe and Chuck)

Joe: I think it’s to transcend on all these different levels and I really see it as a great practice that combines spirit and mind and body and, for me, it really helped me go from being terrified of heights and limited by that terror to not being terrified and being respectful of heights.

‘Drea: It’s pretty cool when you’ve been working on a route and you have that metaphoric-feeling of getting to the top.

Joe: And it seems like anytime it’s a pretty challenging route, for me, there are moments when I think Oh, I don’t know if I can do this but then I keep going and that feels really powerful to me.


  1. That's a great interview! You are very good at communicating with people. I don't know what your profession is, but interviewing and reporting would be right up your alley I think :)

  2. I love that he has a climbing wall in his garage.

  3. @Heather,

    You are so kind. I do like writing but I'm definitely not comfortable interviewing people. My curiosity about rock climbing gets the best of me though.


    I think Joe had to leave that particular garage climbing wall behind but I think it would definitely be a cool edition to a house. I might not ever leave the house if I had one. :)