Meet the PAFletes: Elyse Rylander

Come out for Elyse's workshops during PAF. Get all seminar info at portlandalpinefest.org/seminars/

So I heard you have a knack for perfectly-timed message GIFs. Do you have a favorite? 

I pride myself on not using the same ones every time—I’ve gone so far as to download a couple of different apps in addition to the gif keyboard to shake it up. I like to keep people on their toes.

On a more serious note, what does it mean to you to be a queer woman in the outdoor industry? 

It’s super complex and multi-faceted. Some of the less fun things are often being the only one in the organization or team with that identity, having to speak up for yourself all the time, and dealing with a lot of microaggressions. But on the flip side, I think women, queer women, and other marginalized folks can be the best guides for kiddos or those experiencing the outdoors for the first time. I think these identities can make you really good at understanding what it’s like to be the “only” (or maybe one of a few), and what it’s like to not fit in all the time. It’s also given me the opportunity to meet some really amazing allies and to cultivate friendships I didn’t necessarily think I would be able to. It’s been such a privilege. But it also means having to be tough and to deal with having to be the smartest, the fastest, the best all the time. And having to figure out how to give yourself a break and practice some good self care. Those last two I’m still very much learning how to do.

Tell us about your organization OUT There Adventures. What do you hope to accomplish? 

On an organizational level, I think we’ve already achieved some of our goals. In the last 5-7 years that I’ve been doing this work with OTA so much has changed in the world. I think the work I’m doing right now will be culturally irrelevant in the industry in the next 3-5 years, which is pretty darn astounding. I think any social service non-profit is ultimately striving to work themselves out of a job. Rarely do we see that actually come to fruition, but I think we might actually play a pretty key role in helping to shift the overall paradigm in the industry. On an individual level for our participants, my goal has always been to provide them with an opportunity to be around other people like themselves and to be outside. That rings most profoundly true for me in our youth programs. We do an affirmation circle at the end of all our youth trips, and it always takes hours because they just gush about themselves. It’s so amazing to see and hear them, and to see the change they’ve experienced.

Why do you think the outdoors in particular are a great place to bring people from minority groups together? 

Queer youth in particular are overrepresented in statistics of homelessness, mental health problems, social stresses, depression, and anxiety. We’re continuing to add to the body of research that spending time in nature helps to lessen all of those things (maybe besides homelessness). I think nature provides an amazing opportunity to try and assuage some of those negative experiences. Also, there’s the idea that queer folks are really disruptive to culture and society because they don’t follow prescriptive linear paths—you’re born and “it’s a girl!” which means you wear certain clothes and you act a certain way. In the natural world, I think it’s amazing to be able to see how much queerness and disruption is reflected all around us because things are not linear. It’s basically impossible to travel in a straight line—you have to step over something, or the trail is going to twist, or you’re getting pushed and pulled by the tides. So even in the way you move your physical body you’re able to see that disruption and be celebrated. I think it’s even better than socially constructed urban spaces for showing queer folks that they’re totally natural, more natural than these rigid boxes we put ourselves in. We’ve been told for so long that we’re the unnatural ones, nature is a really empowering place for queer folks to be.

What are a few things those of us who have privilege could do to make the community and the places we love more inclusive? 

I think the first step is just recognizing that you have privilege. We struggle as a culture to have a conversation around bias and privilege because those who have a lot of it don’t want to admit it. It’s really hard for folks to own the fact that the system is rigged and that some of us have been given advantages we got simply because of the color of our skin or the gender we were born with. It’s just sheer luck. If you can’t recognize that, the best you can hope for is achieving a place of tolerance, and that is not an ideal at all. From there, it’s making sure you are doing what you can to educate yourself and aren’t putting the emotional labor and expectation of education on marginalized communities.

You don’t want to ask your gay friend all the questions about being gay—that person has to deal with it all the time, and unless they’re down for it you shouldn’t just expect people in these marginalized positions to do the educating for you. We can educate ourselves. Just like with anything, when you’re practicing a new skill you have to put yourself out there and mess it up a bunch. You’ve gotta go back to the drawing board if it didn’t go well, just like when you’re learning how to climb or mountain bike or snowboard. There’s tons of failing involved, and that’s part of the process. Reflect and do it better next time. I think those are probably my three top things: check your privileges, educate yourself as much as you can, and put yourself out there, fail, and learn.

Is there anything I missed that you’re dying to share? 

Well, OUT There Adventures is a non-profit so we always appreciate support in the form of donations. And the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit will already have passed by the time this gets published, but we’ll be doing it again next year and would love for queer folks and allies of all genders to join!

Elyse's Workshops:
Climbing Towards Inclusivity: A First Step Into Exploring Allyship
Roundtable Discussion: How to Climb 3 Grades Harder with Diversity & Inclusion


Meet the PAFletes: Yassine Diboun

Come out and see Yassine at Expect the Unexpected on Nov. 13 at Base Camp Brewing Company.

With Moroccan-based heritage, it’s no wonder Yassine Diboun’s dream was to play in the World Cup. As time progressed and he found himself trying sport after sport, his teenage years focused largely on basketball. Having competed overseas and even in Division III college ball in Pennsylvania, Yassine moved westward where the allure of the Rocky Mountains and, eventually, the Pacific Northwest, lead him to transition to endurance sports. Since 2007, Diboun has truly hit his stride, competing in numerous ultramarathons and trail running races.

You’ve tried many sports over your lifetime. Do you think you’ve settled on ultra-running as “the one”? 

It has appeared to be the one, for now anyway! I’ve settled on ultra-running for the past dozen or so years, but as we know, nothing is permanent. I will do it as long as my body will allow me, and for as long as I still have the passion for it. If I ever lose the love for it, I will obviously follow my heart to what is next....just like when I moved from team sports to endurance sports earlier in my life. I think what has kept me so firmly rooted in the sport of ultra-running is its simplicity and multi-faceted “health”. As a health professional, and business owner in the fitness industry I am always conveying to people that health is not just your physical health. It is a combination of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Ultra-running, especially in the mountains and forests, fills me up in all of those areas, and living in the Portland, Oregon area allows such amazing access to such places.
It is said that ultra-running is as much physical training as mental training. Do you think they’re equally important?

The mental part of ultra-running is one of the most important aspects. It is very important and I work on it a lot for myself and for the athletes that I coach through Wy’east Wolfpack. The physical training is obviously important and when you do lots of physical training and get strong and fit this builds confidence which in turn gives you a mental edge, but the physical aspect gets all the spotlight. 

I feel that the mental, emotional, and spiritual side of ultra-running is underrated if you will. Ultra-running is one of the most irrational things you can do. There is a mechanism in the human brain called the central governor. It is a self-preservation mechanism that tells us to stop, rest, walk, sleep, etc. when we push the limits of endurance. The thing about the central governor is that it is always very conservative, so as to leave a reserve of energy for survival. Endurance athletes and ultra-runners have found that they can override these signals and push the limits of human potential. The more you push through, the easier it gets and you recognize certain signals. Sometimes it’s not the most healthy option and I have pulled out of races in my career because my mind was pushing through but my body (especially my internal organs) was not having it on that particular day, and I didn’t want to damage myself. The race is not that important! I feel like that is why/how I have been able to race at a high level for over a decade. I am very much in tune with my body and mind because of my lifestyle today. In ultra-running you can’t get too cerebral about the task at hand. It becomes too irrational and overwhelming. Some tricks that I use are mantras, visualization, and imagery before and during competition, and breaking the race or adventure down into bite-sized chunks, otherwise it gets too overwhelming. A little story that we love (and is part of the reason we named our company Wy’east Wolfpack) is the story of the two wolves. It’s a Native American (Cherokee) legend that works well for both life and for endurance sports and it goes like this:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

One is Evil—It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good—It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’
The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’”

In other sports, the gear seems to evolve nonstop (skiing technology, climbing technology, camping/backpacking equipment, etc) and you can easily spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to feel properly equipped and to progress in the sport. In your ultra-running career, have you seen big leaps in running technology? Do you think better technology is important to the sport? Do you think that will change in the future?

There have been great advances in GPS watches, headlamps, and cameras (drones) etc. but I still think at the core of ultra-running is its simplicity and practicing a sacred transcendence. One foot in front of the other moving through wild spaces and tapping into something bigger. I think the technology muddles it a bit and I like to take it all with a grain of salt. I say that because of social media (Instagram, YouTube, FB, etc.) changing the sport a bit. People are going to these amazing places on foot and are focusing a lot on trying to get the perfect shot for their Instagram and missing out on so much of the authentic experience. I am guilty of this sometimes too. We go to such breathtaking places that we want to share the inspiration with others. Also, if you have a big following on social media channels you are more likely to be sponsored by companies so it creates another dynamic which has shown some changes in the sport and growing pains if you will.

In climbing, there are many athletes that push for “firsts.” First ascents, first free ascents, first descents (in skiing/ski mountaineering). Is there as much of an obsession in the ultra-running community for these “firsts”? 

Yes, I think it is human nature to want to be the first or the fastest, etc. There is a trend in ultra-running called FKT’s which stands for Fastest Known Times. There is a website and protocol for people to follow to set a fastest known time on a particular route, or create your own. It’s pretty cool and I have participated in this type of self-organized adventure running. For example, I set the FKT for the Pacific Crest Trail (supported) through the state of Oregon a few years back. I think it’s a fun way to set your own parameters on a project, state your intentions, and go for it without the structure of a race or sanctioned event. It just gives you the freedom without all of the hoopla! I invite you to check out the FKT website.

What has been your toughest race to date?

I think the toughest race I’ve attempted and did not finish, unfortunately, was Badwater 135. This is 135 miles on roads through Death Valley in July. The temps topped out at 127 degrees Fahrenheit. I made it 100 miles and my body was cooked and I was having some internal issues with kidney dysfunction and dehydration/heat exhaustion, etc. I pulled the plug.

Probably the most difficult race that I have finished would be the HURT 100 in Hawaii (I finished 3 times) and it is extremely difficult w/ lots of technical terrain such as slippery roots and rocks and tons of climbing through the mountains in Oahu, Hawaii. Again you deal with heat and humidity of the jungle and it’s in January, so it’s difficult for us PNW’ers to get ready for. The other is UTMB which stands for Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in France. You start in Chamonix France and run around the biggest mountain in the Alps (Mont Blanc) and pass through three countries (France, Italy, Switzerland) and climb over 30,000 cumulative feet. It was very difficult and took me 28 hours to finish in 89th place out of over 3,000 runners.

Have you participated in running events outside of the United States?

Ultra Trail Torres del Paine in Chile—I was leading a 110 kilometer race through one of the most beautiful places on earth in my opinion, and just before sunrise saw a puma. We checked each other out and he jumped over a log and ran away. Pretty exhilarating!

What are your ultra-running goals in the next few years? What do you hope to accomplish?

There are a few races I would like to complete such as Hardrock 100 in Colorado. There are so many self-organized adventures that I would like to do such as the Washington PCT, Tahoe Rim Trail, etc. so I will likely continue to break my season up with self-organized adventures and local and international races as much as I can!

Come out and see Yassine at Expect the Unexpected on Nov. 13 at Base Camp Brewing Company.


Meet the PAFletes: Libby Sauter

Come out and meet Libby Sauter at The Summit, on Nov. 16 at the Melody Center. Get your tickets at portlandalpinefest.org.

It’s sometimes hard to imagine our climbing heroes outside of their vertical worlds. If not spending their time crushing it on a big wall, setting speed records, or putting up first ascents, their lives must purely be spent training for those big projects, right? While for some that may be true, for Libby Sauter, there is much more to her than just a talented athlete. Although she is a highly-accomplished rock climber, Libby has devoted a significant part of her time to her job as a pediatric cardiac ICU nurse. If that isn’t enough, her job has seen her work in places like Libya, Ukraine, and Iraq. So what does it mean to be so motivated on two very different fronts? Let’s find out…

You are best-known in the climbing world for holding a speed record on the Nose of El Capitan. Talk about what holding that record means to you. 

The Nose speed record was the ultimate avenue to test my ability to reach for lofty goals. The routes meaning has changed significantly for me over the years from triumph to rather bittersweet in the wake of the accidents that have transpired on El Cap around speed climbing.

Being a world-class rock climber can be all consuming at times and, as we all know, life is about balance. How do you find the balance in your life that allows you to succeed in and outside of rock climbing? 

I was lucky enough to not fully become obsessed with rock climbing until after I completed my university degree in nursing. Having a flexible, well-paying career has giving me the ability to bounce between my two greatest passions.

Is there a particular moment amongst your experiences as a traveling nurse that sticks with you more than others? 

Pediatric cardiac nursing is a very intense field of health care so there are lots of moments that stand out. One time I watched a little girl’s heart start beating again after we had cracked open her chest in the ICU. Those scenarios don’t often end so happily in the developing world. I was in Benghazi when ISIS was defeated and watching the final moments of that battle from the hospital rooftop will stay with me forever. As well, all the countless tears I shared with my nursing best friend Lisa after particularly tough days are pivotal moments in my life.

Which personal qualities are transferrable between being a successful climber and a successful nurse? 

Basically, any trait that involves working harder than you could ever imagine, going past extreme physical and emotional exhaustion. These traits are helpful in both fields.

Perhaps more interestingly, which personal qualities would you rely on during one activity but never call upon during the other?

Nursing and climbing have so much in common to the point that I can’t really think of a trait that is important in one, but not in the other: fear control, check. Responsibility for someone else’s life, check. Calm under pressure, check. Tolerance of other people’s bodily fluids, check.

Do you usually try to combine a climbing trip with a work trip (i.e. go and climb in the country you’re working in once your contract is finished) or is there a bit of a break between the two?

I haven’t been nursing abroad this year but, previously, I would often try and combine trips. Work was already paying for my transcontinental ticket so I could easily just book little flights around Europe or Asia in between. The Middle East airport hub is Istanbul so I’ve spent lots of time in transit there. I made a really rad climber friend there through the couchsurfing.org website so anytime I had a long layover, I had a partner to get out with. He just opened Istanbul’s first full-fledged climbing gym, DuvarX. Check it out if you ever find yourself in that part of the world!

As climbers, we’re often fortunate to be in incredible places that the majority of people will never will be able experience. Do we, as outdoor enthusiasts, have a responsibility to those places that extends beyond “Leave no Trace”? 

I think we as humans have a responsibility to take care of the planet on which we live, regardless of whether or not we are climbers. But since we have such an intimate relationship with many remote places we have the ability to be extra conscious about leaving no trace, to addressing our trespasses on tribal land, to dealing with our industry’s hypocrisies regarding green living.

What are your future projects (whether climbing related or not)?

My projects of late have more revolved around mountain running and academics than climbing. Losing a really close friend to climbing just a month after Quinn Brett became paralyzed on the Nose last year has really taken the wind out of my climbing sails. I started a grad school program in Global Health that I am very excited about this fall.

Here is an easy one. What is the one food that you crave the most after a few long days in the mountains?

Salty, crunchy! That usually means cheddar popcorn and chips and salsa/hummus/guac! YUM!

Come out and meet Libby Sauter at The Summit, on Nov. 16 at the Melody Center. Get your tickets at portlandalpinefest.org. Get Libby's full schedule at portlandalpinefest.org/libby-sauter/


Meet the PAFletes: Alan Rousseau

Before Alan Rousseau disappeared into the mountains for a month-long trip, he was kind enough to spend a few precious minutes in Ladakh responding to some questions via email. Our exchange is below:

First, you were given the 2013 Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Award. Please explain what that award is and how it came to influence your climbing.

The Lyman Spitzer award was the old name for the AAC cutting edge award. This is a grant that funds climbers for expeditions that are attempting to push the modern standard in alpine climbing. In 2013 Tino Villaneuva and I received this grant to try the west face of Tengi Ragi Tau in the Rolwaling valley of Nepal. This is a huge fin-like mountain that is nearly 7000 meters tall. We walked below it the year before while nabbing the first ascent of Langmoche Ri (6611m) in a seven day push from the village of Na. Getting the grant made it possible for us to return to the Rolwaling. It was our first experience trying to solve a puzzle of this scale. We were turned around real high up on the face, about 1000 feet below the summit. We could not find a spot to sleep without subjecting ourselves to serious objective hazards. We rappelled 6,000 feet in 8 hours to get off the face only leaving 40 feet of cord and a few stoppers. After this experience I took a couple years off from climbing in Asia, not because it was a bad experience, but because I saw the gap in where my climbing was, and where I wanted it to be to set myself up for success on these big committing
features. Last year in 2017, Tino and I returned to the Himalayas and completed the first peak ascent of Rungafarka (6495m) via the 50-pitch north ridge (VI M6 A0 WI4+).

Second, you were given the 2018 AAC Cutting Edge Award. Please explain what that award is and how that also influenced your climbing.

It’s a bit too early to say how it influenced my climbing as I am in India now about to head on the expedition we received the funding for. It feels like we are in a good place, after our success last year, we are hoping to apply a similar formula to the objective this year. For me getting a grant is a big motivator. I know lots of other people applied, and it makes me want to do everything in my power to be as ready as possible for the objective. I don’t want to feel like I wasted an opportunity.

Third, as someone who is clearly at the front of the pack in terms of changing climbing, where do you see the new frontiers of climbing being?

This is an interesting question largely because I don’t see the climbing I’m doing as changing the sport. I have always aspired to be a well-rounded technical climber, to apply a diversity of skills into completing large alpine objectives. As a result I’m not leading the sport in any single technical aspect. My hardest redpoints are 5.13 and M10. I see kids warming up on these grades! My only reasons for success have been 1) I try really hard, and 2) mentally I have been able to climb near my limit in the alpine. I’m just taking a relatively moderate skill set and applying it to big terrain.

Perhaps that means I’m one of the people changing the modern culture of alpinism. However, I see the future of alpinism in the climbing gym. When I see a 15-year-old kid tie in, casually talk about who has a crush on who, while floating 5.13, it makes me think there will be very little aid climbing done in the future. The hardest traditional ground up routes completed in the alpine from a technical standpoint are easy for most adept young guns. With a reduction in aid comes a faster ascent. The end result is a bigger route completed with a smaller kit required.

Fourth, as climbing is moving forward into new ways of thinking about what climbing could become, in your mind, is there any danger that we are losing something, maybe a connection to the past? In your own experiences, what is that link between the past and the future of climbing?

On this I have somewhat of a limited perspective. I’m 32 years old and my introduction to climbing was only 15 years ago. I don’t think there is much of a danger in losing the past. I think there will always be respect and intrigue for what each generation accomplished with the equipment available at the time. Skill sets will evolve, equipment will adapt, but at the end of the day the goal remains unchanged: climb the hardest thing you can and get down safe. As long as people remember what was done to get the sport to where it is today, I believe the connection to the past will remain strong.

Fifth, talk a little about the role that technology impacts your climbing. With the advent of social media, the proliferation of beta, and the continual evolution of the equipment itself, what do you see to be the general trajectory of the sport?

Even when I started climbing, I didn’t think technology (other than equipment changing) would play much of a role in climbing. I think the online information sharing is incredibly valuable to the progression of our sport: conditions updates, access issues, new route development, better directions, rack recommendations. I think they are all great. The end result is we all climb more. I know for myself I find enough adventure on route. I don’t need to get lost on the approach and descent to get my fill of uncertainty for the day.

Social media is another facet of this realm. A lot of info sharing does happen here as well. As does a spread of stoke and stories (I swear more people like ice climbing in July than January). Stories of climbing have always been told, in one form or another. I hope as social media’s presence continues to shape modern society, climbers continue to tell stories with an emphasis on authenticity, and not ‘how should I frame this to get the most likes’. I think social media presents a very interesting example of intrinsic motivations pitted against the human desire for peer validation.

Finally, talk about your process. How do you work to create a consistent evolution for your climbing such that it is always progressive.

I think I’ve always been good at setting goals and finding out what work I need to do to obtain them.

The first time I remember doing this, I wanted to run a sub-seven-minute mile while I was seven years old. I remember my dad working with me on pacing, logging laps on the track, eventually hitting a 6:55 and being totally stoked. I think that has stuck with me. The work you put in is what you get out. I approach my climbing goals with this same mentality, although breaking down an unclimbed face in the Himalayas is a bit more complicated than calculating split times in a mile. I also get bored when things feel stagnant, or like I’m at a plateau. I think this has motivated me to keep pushing my limits, as well as exploring new styles of climbing.

Now, some really “important” questions

Tacos or burritos. Which one do you prefer and why?
Burritos. When it comes to food and drinks, I have always been a quantity over quality kind of guy.

Head to toe or head to head sleeping in a tent and why?
Head to head. My feet smell waaay too bad.

Name a totally bone-headed mistake you made when climbing. Can you laugh about it now?

When I was 19, I climbed Mt. Hood. I forgot my sleeping bag in the car, and at the first break managed to drop my puffy jacket after putting it in a compression sack. It flew down the mountain.

That was a cold trip for me. And yes I can laugh about that as well as just about every other “bonehead” move I did at that time.

Knickers. They’re old school. Some have tried to bring them back? Defend them or ridicule them!

They seem pretty silly to me. Maybe if I were “Portland hip” and could grow a sweet moustache, I would embrace them!

Are you stoked? Head on over to portlandalpinefest.org to get tickets to see Alan at The Summit on Nov. 16 at the Melody Center, and/or check out his clinics & seminars.


Meet the PAFletes: Marcus Garcia

This will be Marcus' second time as a PAFlete. His energy last year was infectious and we knew we had to have him back for PAF18. This year you have the opportunity to learn more Marcus in his clinics: Good Enough Anchors, Movement, Rigging for Photos, and Better Crack Climbing. He's also teaching our first ever kids climbing clinic (ages 9–14)with Dawn Glanc.

If you’re looking for the definition of an all-around climber, Marcus Garcia may very well be your man. From an impressive list of more than 200 routes put up all over the USA and Mexico to a spot on the UIAA Youth Commission pushing to bring competitive ice climbing to the Winter Olympic Games, Marcus’ ambitions don’t stop at “simply” projecting a new, difficult line. As his climbing career evolves, he finds himself undertaking a new era of mentorship. In this interview, we get a brief glimpse into the mind of someone whose commitment to the climbing world goes beyond establishing hardcore 5.13 trad routes.

Can you put a finger on the moment when you felt the transition from student to mentor happening? Was it one moment or more of a slow transition?

The moment I felt the transition from student to mentor was after losing my mentor in a climbing accident. I was ready to quit climbing altogether. After mourning the loss, a friend asked me to climb a big ice route. I was off the couch and had not swung a tool in a while. That year, the first pitch was steep, really steep. I chose to start the route. Soon, I found myself pumped and run out. Too steep to stop and place an ice screw. So I calmed myself down and remembered what my late mentor taught me: “Enjoy the movement.” I just focused on the climbing and topped the pitch. At that moment, I realized I have something to teach others, just as I was taught myself.

You’ve put a lot of emphasis on mentorship and coaching. There are plenty of excellent, world-class climbers out there that never take the leap from student to mentor. Why do you think that is?

To be a mentor for some means putting aside personal goals as a climber and focusing on helping others achieve their goals. I feel this scares most climbers, as climbing in itself is a selfish sport when you look at it as a whole. Mentoring is a lot of work and a lot of challenges. It takes a lot of dedication to be a good mentor and some world-class climbers are just not ready to let go of their goals. Nothing wrong with that, it is just not their time. I was there and now I have learned to balance my goals and blend them into how I mentor others.

What is your personal drive to offer mentorship to younger, up-and-coming climbers? Why is it important?

Over the years, balancing my goals and mentoring had to become one. My goals became what I learned by watching the mentees grow into their full potential, not only as a climber but as a young human being. Along the way, I realized I, too, am still the student. As the years go by, I am still learning how to be a great mentor. Everyone I encounter is different in learning how to climb. What is important to me is watching the growth of an individual. This can be during a 4-hour clinic or it can be watching one of the youth members graduate from high school, travel overseas, and become their own person. To me, that is the most rewarding feeling a mentor can have.

How is the bid to bring climbing to the Winter Olympics coming along anyway? What are the next steps to continue to bring the sport to the ultimate world stage?

Unfortunately, the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea did not choose to host an ice climbing exhibition during the games. The next steps are to grow the sport here in the USA and focus on the youth side of it, as I do, because they are the future of the sport. We need more US support from brands and the climbing community. We need to put on more ice climbing competitions that showcase the physical challenges of this sport and educate the climbing community to take time and teach it to people.

You’ve put up numerous routes during your long career as a climber that involve using all sorts of equipment. During this time, you must have seen trends in climbing gear come and go. What are some of the pieces of equipment or methods you are glad did not stand the test of time? What about old technology or methods that have been used for decades and are still around today that you find yourself using over and over again? 

As far as ice climbing, the days of the straight shaft ice tool are gone. They were notorious for the bashing of knuckles. Also, the ridiculous forearm pump you got came from from holding onto the slippery handles with a strap around your wrist that restricted the much needed warm blood flow. Even with all the latest training techniques around, nothing beats the good old basic dead hang. And focus on good technique. Footwear has changed but it does not replace good footwork or understanding how to climb using the least amount of energy.

How do you find the balance between devoting time to mentorship and still pursuing your own personal climbing endeavors? 

There lies the most challenging quest. My time between teaching others and still pursuing my own visions has been merged into the same goal. My goal is to be a great mentor and if I get to go out and chase my own objectives from time to time, then that is a bonus. To do this I had to develop a workout that keeps me in top form so that when I do get out, I am ready. That is easier said than done. But having a great climbing partner and the kids I coach keep me motivated.

Now that you’ve begun this “master” stage of your life (as opposed to student), what do you envision for your future? Is there another step beyond mastery or mentorship?

Over the years, I have been asked if I would write a book. I really never thought of being a writer. This year I took the next step and began writing and putting together about 20 years of research copied in journals into the computer. I wrote a little workout for Rock and Ice and loved the process. So now to find the time. Early mornings and dedication, just like I would if I am training for a goal, have become the norm.

Looking backward, what do you feel is your most significant achievement (either as a climber or as a mentor)? Looking forward, what is the thing you most hope to accomplish?

Looking back over the years, I find myself thinking about the times I have helped other world-class climbers achieve their goals while at the same time helping young, up-and-coming climbers find their own path. In 2017, I was able to achieve some of my biggest achievements as a climber. One was helping a strong Chelsea Rude find herself in trad climbing. Then, during the same week, establishing a FFA in Yosemite, a place that has been a stepping stone for many climbers. But to be able to leave my own mark in a place that had done a lot for me is a highlight. This was only to be topped a few days later by free climbing a big wall as a mentor, photographer, and climber in a day with Jon Cardwell and Sasha Digiulian. Leaving the valley after giving back to the climbing community will be one of my favorite times. What I hope to accomplish now is to watch my protégé chase their vision as a young climber.

And the question that I ask everyone: What is the one food that you crave the most after a few long days in the mountains?

Over the years, for some reason the food I crave most is Thai noodles covered in peanut sauce washed down with Thai iced tea without ice. Yes, without ice. Funny, I do not like ice in my drinks, nor do I like plain chocolate.

Get to know more about Marcus and sign up for his clinics at portlandalpinefest.org.


Meet the PAFletes: Quinn Brett

Quinn Brett is teaching and speaking at the Portland Alpine Fest, from Nov. 12–18 in Portland, Ore. She is a co-instructor for Fast & Light Alpinism, instructing the seminar Trip Planning: Rock Climbing, co-leading an Advocacy seminar, and one of our keynote presenters at the premier event of the festival, The Summit, on Friday, Nov. 16 at the Melody Center. Get Quinn's full itinerary here.

An Interview with Quinn Brett

Let’s start with some easy questions to warm-up: burritos or tacos?

Depends. Am I in the mood for eggs wrapped up or am I in the mood for open-faced fish? That sounds unintentionally kinky. HA!

Would you rather be buried under pile of puppies or kittens, and why?

Kittens? Yes, question mark. I think cats do a better job of cleaning themselves, so maybe less chance of poo in the face.

Climbing knickers. Defend them or ridicule them.

Wear them with class and style and pride, unless its an off-width then whine about how my ankles will get shredded.

Alright. Let’s get down the nitty-gritty. Our theme for the series of interviews is the future of climbing and where each of the athletes thinks that the future lies. So...Talk about your vision for America’s public lands. Obviously they are necessary for all Americans, but for climbers, the issue is particularly salient. What are your hopes, dreams, fears? 

My hope is that climbers trend a more selfless habit of giving back. I know we all want/need to get our fix outside but it is equally important to look further than the next project. Enlighten yourself with the how and why these lands were set aside. Share your experiences with others about these spaces but also invite others to experience them...infecting them with the same bug, with hopes that they will continue to be, yes used, but more importantly preserved and untrammeled.

For many of our readers, your fall on El Cap in October of 2017 is the primary way you are known. So I think that it is worth addressing in a few ways. Until the modern era, there was the maxim, “The leader shall not fall”, and then for a long time, the leader whipped at will. As climbing is being pushed into new frontiers, that statement has become true again, at least as an overarching principle, as climbers seek to move faster over the same terrain. Talk about your perspective on this issue.

As I learned to climb, I worked my way through the grades....trying to do every climb without a fall, usually first try. I didn’t like falling and I don’t think I had my trad. leader fall until I was well into climbing 5.10’s and testing the 5.11 waters. Even sport climbing, I was timid, scared of falling. I think falling, like climbing, should be practiced. Obviously, falling on certain terrain or using certain tactics, is less than ideal...but then again, accidents happen.

Your recovery seems to be teaching you about grit and hope and patience. Compare these lessons to those that you have learned on some of your hardest or scariest climbs.

Patience. Ha. Yup. I sucked at projecting climbs, I didn’t start gaining interest of enough patience to do so until the last few years. Inevitably, I would cry during the project process pin-pointing the one move that was shutting me down. Negative thoughts of, “I can’t, I will never make that move.” With patience and continued effort, eventually the move would unlock and the climb would relinquish her difficulties, sometimes the send would feel oddly effortless! I can’t wait for the day to arrive, and gosh I hope it comes, when I feel that effortless feeling regarding my mind and this seemingly permanent sitting position, also for nerve pain relinquishing to peace.

Any time a climber is injured while climbing, there is inevitably a chorus of voices who speak out against the perceived stupidity of the actions undertaken at the time. How can this conversation be moved forward so that the real issues are framed in a more productive way and that a true dialogue is achieved?

These questions are difficult to answer. Personality and opinions are a part of life. If we all would just take a deep breath, remembering patience perhaps we would all have better success at responding instead of reacting. I think if we are compassionate with our time, even just a single moment, we give space to remember that we are all flawed. We all make mistakes. Accidents happen.

Lastly, we need to address the elephant in the room. Talk about your handstands. Are they just a metaphor for your life, or am I misreading them?

Handstands? Get upside down, change your perspective. Having trouble focusing, stuck in a rut, memory failing, trouble finding your balance (literally or figuratively), need a minute to breathe or are you always in control afraid to be vulnerable? Practice more inversions in your life.

Get tickets to the Portland Alpine Fest now at portlandalpinefest.org!


Quinn Brett is an adventurer and record setting athlete.  Tying herself to Estes Park, Colorado for the last fifteen years, she strives to push mind and body to the limits.  She holds numerous speed climbing records in Yosemite, Zion and Rocky Mountain National park, is a competitive triathlete, and an eclectic tight wearing handstand master.

Professionally Quinn worked during the summer months as a climbing ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park---essentially medical and technical first responder .  She was the only female in this highly coveted position.  To compliment the rescue and medical component of this job, Quinn taught Wilderness Medical Courses with Remote Medical International during the winter months.

Last fall, she sustained a spinal cord injury from a fall while climbing on El Capitan in Yosemite.  Although her life is undergoing some drastic changes, unable to walk, climb, run and handstand, Quinn is pushing forward with hope.  Wilderness experiences, before her accident, provided Quinn with perspective, growth and appreciation of life and others.  She hopes to find new ways to enjoy physical endeavors and the therapeutic ways public lands provides.

Learn more about Quinn at quinnbrett.com