Updated: Sep 13, 2021
Earlier this year, I was chosen to be a part of Scapa's Athlete Mentorship Initiative (SAMI), a project to bring Scarpa's team together with athletes from historically marginalized communities. I was honored to be a part of the program and even more so excited to be paired with my mentor, Josh Wharton. Beyond direct mentorship, we have been given a ton of resources to help us work towards goals that we outlined in our applications (more on that later). I've been super grateful for this opportunity and the support that the Scarpa team has provided, but it all became tangible a few weeks ago when I got to fly down to Colorado.
Due to a tornado in Denver, I was grounded at Bozeman airport and was over 2 hours late to Denver. Fortunately Josh didn't ditch me and, after a quick in-person introduction, we launched straight over to Boulder to meet some of the Scarpa family for dinner. Although too short, we enjoyed some food and drink and I had to the chance to finally meet some of the people that I'd only known as faces on zoom meetings. After dinner, we drove up the hill to Josh's home in Estes Park and got to know each other a little better.
Josh is a totally legendary climber with huge resume and a surprisingly low profile- he has no social media and does not promote his achievements at all. He has a healthy dose of old school, where humility tells all and risk tolerance is likely a tad higher than most modern climbers. He's also a straight shooter and isn't afraid of sharing his opinion after listening to yours. Perhaps most important to his career, he has a very pure pursuit for climbing and an admirable work ethic. Basically, he is just keeping it real.
Admittedly, I was pretty nervous to spend the week with Josh and his family, but they made me feel right at home. They were super accommodating, and Josh's daughter Hera was genuinely psyched to have a visitor to show around. Josh had to balance his schedule of being a dad, husband, and athlete, but managed to create some time for us. On the first day, we broke the ice with some cragging at Wizard's Gate, a local Estes crag just a few minutes down the road from his home.
We met up with Josh's friend Casey, who happened to visiting town, and my good friend Seth. On the 45 minute approach, we all got to know each other between heavy breathing. Casey was very outspoken and provided for some good discussion, most of which we all aligned on. Once we got climbing, we realized how cold it actually was and ended up taking our sweet time between laps in order to warm up. Eventually, the sunlight wrapped around the corner and the temps were much more bearable. I had to remind myself of how nice it is to be cold in the middle of summer, also that I hadn't climbed at 10,000' any time recently. By the late afternoon, we had managed a number of fun routes and Josh gave a burn on his contrived variation/link of the hardest climbs at the cliff. I could relate, having done the same at my local crag, albeit a full number grade (or more) easier!
Over the weekend, Josh stayed home with Erinn and Hera and graciously loaned me his car. I ventured down to Denver for the somewhat overwhelming Global Climbing Day event and then met my friends, Tracy and Seth at Boulder for some more relaxed Dream Canyon climbing. We got in a few nice pitches and beat the impending thunderstorm for some tacos and beer in town. The next day, I slept in and borrowed Josh's e-bike to cruise around Estes Park. I got a lot of reading in, became friendly with the chickens, and even solicited some Spanish climbing beta for mine and Anju's upcoming trip. Erinn's veggie lasagne was all time that night, providing some good fuel for the next day.
We woke up at 5 am to enjoy some coffee and granola, a relatively casual start for the Diamond. With only a 13 minute drive to the trailhead, we were on the trail by 6, catching first light almost immediately. Naturally, Josh had his own version of the approach and, despite moving at a casual pace, we reached the base of the wall in less than 3 hours. Seth snapped a few pictures and then took off to meet us near the top.
One minute Josh was pointing out countless lines and the next we were scrambling up the surprisingly sketchy North Chimney. Upon reaching Broadway, we diverged from the masses of the Casual Route and started simul-climbing up the first two pitches on Hearts & Arrows, a 9 pitch 5.12b first established in 2012. The last time Josh climbed this was with Tommy Caldwell in a fast ascent broken into just two pitches, so he had a sketchy at best memory of the route. At some point, I asked for the length of the next pitch and he responded with a smile; "Do you want me to make something up?" Needless to say, we cruised up the first four pitches with Josh in front. At some point on pitch 3, however, he did rip off a hold and took a sizeable whip on to a state-of-the-art rigid stem friend from the early 90s. I got a good laugh, as I was giving him a hard time for having the relic on our hike in. I mean really though, what pro racks up with rigid stem friends? BD needs to get this guy a pay raise, or at least some more gear!
My first pitch was a link of a cruxy traverse into a nice corner system that I later saw in a full page photo on the August issue of Climbing Magazine. After this, we were situated at the base of the headwall, a gently overhung face with vertical cracks capped by an intimidating roof. Seth's rope dangled up above, with his head barely in sight. He let out a little whoop and rapped a bit further before pulling out his camera. With Josh's calming encouragement, I took off and slowly huffed my way up the next three pitches to the top. At each belay, it was surreal watching the pack swing in space at the top of this impressive wall while Josh effortlessly cruised up the rope behind me.
At the top, we celebrated quickly and I continued with my heavy breathing, jogging to the summit before meeting Josh and Seth at the raps. We descended quickly and re-racked at camp before Josh took off to put his daughter to sleep. Seth and I stayed the night, which gave me plenty of time to coax Seth into climbing D7 with me the next morning.
Between the full moon, elevation, and the countless desperate screams from the North Chimney, we had a rough night's sleep. Seth and I finally got moving well after most parties had gotten through the chimney, arriving at the base of D7 just in time to slip past a pair of nice guys from Longmont. Seth let me lead the whole climb and soon we were off route, somewhere left of the crux pitch. I took on a piece, conferred with the topo and misleading mountain project comments, and then swung onto the right line. We topped out, pretty tired for our second day of climbing at 14,000', and cruised back into town for dinner and a beer.
The next morning, Josh and I sipped coffee on his porch until we had to leave for lunch in Boulder and eventually my flight. Over the course of the week, I got to know Josh and his family a little better, along with the lifestyle of a professional climber. Josh is a real one, dedicated to the pursuit and true to his values; literally a mentor to my mentors. Learning little tips about planning and techniques for climbing fast are great, but the real value in this relationship is in his approach to climbing and life. I hope to take an ounce of that into my own, and distill a bit of my lifestyle to make things more pure. I'm already looking forward to the next time we can climb and the ways in which I can give back to others like me.