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.
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.
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?
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 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.