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

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