Ten Expeditions and Climbing Full Time

I just got through what seems to be a very dark, long month. There wasn’t any climbing. There wasn’t even hockey until what seemed like too little too late. Natalie and I de-cluttered our home for a pending move, work has been roaring along in high gear for an unusually long time, and I am just getting over a lingering cold and flu. Goodbye, January.

However, January did bring a few good things. As I reported on Facebook and Twitter, some exciting details about climbs planned for later this year were announced, which is nice since most climbers keep their plans to themselves, lest a competing climbing try to bag the route first. Since I mainly enjoy “real” climbing vicariously, this is very important information to have.

Two sets of grants have been announced in the last couple of weeks. First, the American Alpine Club announced the winners of the Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge grant and on Monday Alpinist, Patagonia, Black Diamond, Mountain Gear and W.L. Gore Associates announced the 2013 Mugs Stump grants earlier.

Together they are helping fund 10 expeditions from Alaska to the Karakorum. Some teams received both grants. Regardless that there are several more grant awards to be disbursed, these 10 alone will be worth checking-in on this spring and summer.

While these grant recipients are likely to add entries into the American Alpine Journal for the permanent record, they aren’t the only climbers living the ideal life in the mountains. Recipients like John Frieh and others work day jobs to support their climbing habit. Others work seasonal jobs to climb the rest of the year. But it seems that there are more climbers today that are making a living around climbing — mainly by guiding.


Outside — who’s website’s stories have recently been getting as compelling as those in the print edition, by the way — published an
Interview with Nat Partridge
of Exum Mountain Guides on the guiding life. He lives to rock climb in the summer and ski in the winter and he’s been doing that for years.

Nat says that the ability for people to make a living solely off guiding year-round has taken off in the last 15-20 years. He attributes this to the ability to for guides to obtain credentials, such as those from the American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA), and that there are more people with excess money and leisure time for climbing and skiing while hiring a guide.

I think he’s spot on. I’d just add that the Internet, social media and the accessibility of beta has made the ability to guide in regions on routes they haven’t climbed themselves within reach. Previously, if you didn’t know a region well, it might be foolish to guide as guides were like harbor pilots; they were brought onto a climbing team because of their knowledge of local terrain as much as their trade skills. If they ventured beyond their local hills, they had to have introductions in the region to obtain local knowledge.

Even then, the fact that guides in Washington state are able to guide clients in Alaska and the Andes indicates that guides are hired for things more significant than local knowledge, but also their mountain sense. They have soft-skills that don’t operate from a hard checklist. Their instincts, navigation and climbing problem-solving talents are what makes them valuable. Clearly those that are making a living, like Nat, have the attributes worthy of supporting a career.


The traditional way to climb year-round is climbing like a dirtbag. It’s unsustainable. Eventually you grow too poor, too homeless or a combination or too old keep going. The climbing isn’t necessarily the part that wanes. Still, it’s part of the tradition of wandering, whether you’re a hiker or an alpinist.

Take my friend Ryan. Until recently, he worked a Washington, DC job that, like many jobs here, had an end-date. When the his appointment ended, Ryan would have to find a new position at the end of the term. But Ryan doesn’t approach things conventionally; he did something most of us only fantasize about doing.

By the time his commitment was completed, Ryan had downsized his belongings, packed them all up into his backpack boarded a plane for home in where he would start a year-long journey, living in the back of his covered pick-up truck and climbing — starting at the Ouray Ice Festival earlier this month. His only worries are where is the next route, how solid is that anchor, and when does he meet his friends for a drink. That’s a better arrangement than the boys in Yosemite’s Camp 4 had in the 60s and 70s.

Ryan will be doing this through the year. He was still in Ouray, last I checked. He’ll spend a lot of nights in the back of his customized covered-pickup truck and along routes. He’ll be a better climber and have a year to tell stories for years to come.


For me, I wear a necktie and a sport coat to work most of the week. I plan meetings, review budgets, and talk about strategic plans, industry developments and regulatory challenges. I really enjoy it, yet there is part of me that wishes my family would support leaving the city life behind and fully embracing a living that is supported by the climbing life. But I know that I missed that window of opportunity a long time ago and it’s too late to get in my 10-thousand hours to guide for a living. For now, I’ll live vicariously, read vivaciously about climbing history, and I’ll keep sharing what I find.

Well, thanks for dropping by again. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter, because I believe climbing matters, even though we work nine to five.


6 thoughts on “Ten Expeditions and Climbing Full Time

  1. Great post. I too work a desk job and enjoy climbing leisurely like you do. One thing I find rewarding (and if you have kids you’ll understand) is volunteer. I volunteer for the Boy Scouts because that’s what I grew up in and where I learned how to explore. This past Wednesday, I took our troop to a climbing gym for the first time. This past Fall, we climbed Slide Mountain, tallest mountain in the NY Catskills. This may not be like the climbs I read about all the time, but being able to introduce climbing, talk about climbing history and the things I’ve learned about the sport to these kids, is really rewarding. It’s sort of my way to contribute to the climbing community in the best way that I can.

  2. That’s great, Dan. Teaching anything is rewarding and to teach and introduce climbing sounds really satisfying!

    How do you stay sharp with knots, climbing and belay skills?

  3. I don’t stay as sharp as I’d like. I try and hit the indoor gym as much as I can (I miss the days when I would go weekly). And I’ll work with my rope and gear at home and go out on climbs when possible. Unfortunately, I don’t have many friends who are climbers so when winter hits (my favorite climbing season) they tend to retreat indoors. At least with the Scout troop, we are always planning hikes and trips every month so it allows me to go out and teach kids skills I know (which teaching alone is a great sharpening tool).

  4. Well I am right there with both of you guys. I love climbing and anything to do with it, but the last time I really did serious climbing was in Kentucky at the Red where I am from. I will always enjoy reading your blog and anything to do with the sport along with my boys I hope.

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