community --> awesomeI'm always on the road, meeting amazing characters and legendary climbers - I wanted to have the space and opportunity to sit down and ask a few questions with some of these people. This Five Questions page is just that: five questions about whatever comes to mind with some of the raddest people in the community. Look here for a new interview every few weeks.
You call West Virginia home, but you make your way out west and all across the country often. What crags or areas do you find to be the most exciting, with the best scene? What's the next raddest thing in your opinion?
Dpmclimbing.com is going strong, largely thanks to you. You distill hordes of blogs, twitter accounts and insta-spray into news that the public is stoked on. But big numbers are losing their punch, and it's not so uncommon for pre-teens to take down 5.14 anymore. What have you reported on recently that you find truly unique and impressive? What news in 2013 has inspired you the most?
You guys are busy building a house and really settling into Fayetteville. I've climbed with you enough at the New to know that you've pretty much ticked the area - aside from a few remaining rigs here and there. How are you going to stay stoked in the long run? Where's your psyche in the NRG at this point?
You've mentioned to me that Australia is on your ultimate tick-list. What are some other spots, internationally, that you'd like to squeeze in before you've run out of Octobers?
status: entrepreneur, nutrition therapist, rock diva
I've been friends with Neely for long enough that I actually can't place the first time we ever met. Over the years we've climbed together, partied together, walked dogs together and now even lived together. I've gone to Neely for council on countless occasions. She is a not only a strong climber but a strong woman. Not afraid to speak her mind, even at the expense of being refreshingly brash, she commands - and righteously gets - respect from peers. Neely is an uplifting character and plays a role as a healer very well. Her expertise and years of experience in the Nutrition field have landed her a sweet lifestyle - now totally mobile - with her husband and also great friend of mine, Seth Lytton. Now she is endeavoring into the creation of a new online resource for climbers, all the while remaining a fit and inspiring climber, nutrition therapist and kind friend to many. I am really stoked to share this interview because it seems I'm not the only one that goes to Neely with all kinds of questions - basically all of her friends do too. So here's a few Q's that you may have even pondered yourself... enjoy!
You, your lovely doggie Zala and your husband Seth Lytton have been on the road now for 8 months. What were some of your favorite and least favorite moments? Is life on the road really as awesome as we all thought it would be?
Has it been 8 months?! Whoa. It's flying by, and that's why we're not ready to stop doing it. Honestly, we just had a conversation about our big plan yesterday - what we're going to be doing in the next few years - and there's not one part of me that wants to stop living on the road. Now, living in the van is a totally different story. We had a little moment in December at the Red where I temporarily went insane living in such small quarters and being around each other 24 hours a day. That's when we started living in apartments in Chattanooga and now Vegas. I don't think we'll stop living in apartments until maybe Rifle season (if I have my way, at least).
Favorite moments? My favorite place FOR SURE is the Red. I freaking love the climbing there, and I was pretty psyched on what I accomplished in the time we were there. I did a couple climbs that were hard for me, but also my head got a lot stronger, and I figured out that climbing in the cold isn't so terrible after all. Major lessons learned for a climber. Other favorite moments include beating you at pool in our living room and walking through the most beautiful forest I've ever seen on Vancouver Island with Seth. Living on the road is amazing because when you get bored or cold or un-psyched you can just leave and go somewhere more awesome. It's the ultimate freedom.
You’re launching a powerful new online training resource for climbers of every ability level - called TrainingBeta.com - what was your aim for this site and what motivated you to work (your ass off) on it?
Yeah, Seth and I have definitely been working hard on this for about a year now. I know you'd rather see us climbing every hour of every day right now (with you), but this site has become really important to me, so I'm trying to make it as awesome as I can. I don't know - we just saw a hole in the climbing training scene, so we're trying to fill it. If you want to figure out how to train and get stronger, there are trainers and coaches available at some gyms or online, but they're too expensive for a lot of people. Then there are books and online articles on how to train, but when I try reading them and putting together an actual plan for myself, I get really lost. I just wanted someone to give me a book that said, "Here, do this. This is what you do on Monday, this is what you do on Wednesday, and so on, and this is how long it's gonna take." I didn't see that clearly written out anywhere.
So I partnered with some trainers (so far Kris Peters of Team of 2 and Kris "Odub" Hampton of PowerClimbingCompany.com) to create easy-to-follow training programs that you can download from the site so you can start training right away without any confusion. The first one is published, and it's Kris Peters' 6-Week Power Endurance Training Program.
It's not just the training programs, though. I wanted to know how other climbers climb so hard. I mean, I climb with you and Paige (Claassen) and some other really strong people, so I know what you do in a given session, but I wanted to really delve into strong climbers' heads and find out how they train, what they eat, how they stay motivated, how they overcome fears, and so on. So part of the site is the podcast where I interview climbers and trainers about just that (the first episode with Carlo Traversi is out now). And there's also the blog, where notable climbers, like Paige, Angie Payne, Emily Harrington, Jamie Emerson, and others, have written articles about all that stuff. I'm pretty psyched with how the site is going so far, and I've learned a lot myself from all their insights.
In many people’s eyes you are quite the role model… 13c climber, self employed, mobile and even happily married. Do you think you’ve found an ultimate balance in your personal / professional / climbing life? How do you stay on top of all this stuff and what general advice would offer someone who wants a life like yours?
Wow, when you write it out listing all those things like that, it does sound like a pretty awesome life ;) And a lot of days I think to myself, "I'm so grateful for this - this is what I've always wanted." But no, I do not think I've found an ultimate balance with all those aspects of my life, as you've witnessed living with me. I work really long hours sometimes, meaning I don't leave my computer from like 10am to 1am, and sometimes I get really wrapped up in all of my work projects. So wrapped up in it that I'd rather be doing that than spending time with people or being outside climbing or training, which is really why we're living on the road in the first place.
I don't know if I'll ever find a balance with it, to be honest. I want to do a lot of things with my life, and professional success is incredibly important to me. But climbing will always be huge to me. I get an enormous amount of satisfaction from being outside climbing and reaching climbing goals, so even though it's kinda crazy living on the road sometimes trying to balance all of this, it's totally worth it.
Oh, and what advice would I offer someone who wants a life like mine? If you really want to work remotely, you can definitely make it happen. When I decided once and for all that I never wanted to go into an office during regular business hours again, I sat my ass on my couch for 7 weeks straight, researching online how I could make a living remotely. I emailed random people to talk about potential business relationships in my field (nutrition), I considered starting my own meal planning service online, and then I got really lucky and partnered up with an existing meal plan service in the Paleo diet world (via one of my random emails to the owner of paleoplan.com) and life's been way more awesome ever since. So in other words, just try to figure out online how your passions and interests can create income, and go from there. Or just ask your boss if you can stop coming into the office and work remotely ;)
Honestly, how much do you think a sound diet can improve a persons climbing? Not weight loss specifically, but how can what you eat make you send better? or can it?
Well, the short answer is yes, I definitely think a sound diet can help people send harder. If you're eating crappy foods that aren't nourishing your body, you might feel tired, have stomach aches, have headaches/migraines, feel bloated (not just in your stomach but all over your body from water retention), or have joint pain. Those are just some of the major complaints I hear from people all the time, all of which can really inhibit your climbing. Basically, I think eating the right amount of food; eating the proper ratio of fat, carbs, and protein; and figuring out any food sensitivities you have are paramount to overall health, and you can't climb your hardest if you're not healthy, right?
Let’s talk about your goals. Where and what would you like to be climbing at the end of this year? How about professional goals - do you have big plans for TrainingBeta and or PaleoPlan or are you still developing the vision?
I'd like to climb 5.13c again this year, maybe in the Red or Vegas (or France?). If I really stretch my imagination, I'd love to climb 5.13d this year - Tombraider in Rifle to be exact :) Mostly I just want to stay healthy and sane enough to keep climbing a lot.
I do have big plans for TrainingBeta this year. I want to continue doing the podcast with awesome guests every week, and I want to publish a bunch more training programs from different trainers all over the world. And with PaleoPlan, I'd like to continue learning at the rapid pace I've been keeping, and helping the company grow as much as possible. It's exciting seeing so many more people jumping on board with Paleo, not just because they want to lose weight, but because they want to feel healthier overall. I like being a part of that.
Sponsors: Outdoor Research, Scarpa
Status: Home owner, author, editor, developer, dog lover.
I really can't imagine anyone not getting along well with Mike, or Mikey as many of us call him or for the core group there's of course the alias Milky - because he's silky smooth. When he's not holding down the fort at Dead Point Magazine, he's probably racking miles on his Sprinter van somewhere across the Rocky Mountains with his adorable and yet shockingly deadly puppy, Lilah in tow. I could talk about his lengthy achievements as a route developer or his impressive tick list at the New River Gorge and across the nation, but I think what makes Mikey really stand out to me is that he's just a very cool person. The kind of guy that you can relate to and easily share a conversation with. His passion for climbing, history and new routing is palpable, and despite how bad the weather is or how awful his project might be going, he will remain smiling and stoked and probably still be cracking jokes. He is a force for humility at the crag and often brings a refreshingly light attitude even in the company of straight faced honemasters. You will see some of his humor come out in this interview, one of my favorite yet.
Let's get right into it. How can it be that the New River Gorge is so sick, and yet so empty?
This is one of life’s greatest mysteries. It’s something I ponder every day when I top out a route and look out along five miles of empty cliff at Endless Wall. And you know I’m not exaggerating! When you were here, there were perfect October days with sunny skies and 50 degree temps and the parking lots were literally empty except for us. On that same day, there were probably 700 cars at Muir Valley, Red River Gorge.
I think the Red is probably the #1 reason there is so little traffic at the New, and it makes sense. The Red is undoubtedly one of the best climbing areas in the world; but the NRG is just as good so you’d think the split of climbers would be more 60/40 instead of 95/5. Proximity to urban areas is probably another reason. The closest cities are about 3 hours away so it takes some pretty devoted climbers to make the drive every weekend. I think the old-school nature of the climbing plays a role too. It’s techy and sometimes a little scary. The New is not a good beginner area with most of the good routes starting at 5.10 and the highest concentration of quality in the 5.12 and 5.13 realm.
I could talk about this all day, but the final point that has to be clarified is that the New isn’t quite as empty as your first impression may lead you to believe. It can get totally packed in the summertime with 50 cars at Summersville Lake or Bubba city. We sold 5000 guidebooks in 3 years, so the climbers are here. They seem to just come in the summer and largely disappear when the conditions finally get good. I climb here October through May so I never see the crowds. Why that happens is another mind-boggling mystery to ponder…
You call West Virginia home, but you make your way out west and all across the country often. What crags or areas do you find to be the most exciting, with the best scene? What's the next raddest thing in your opinion?
Next raddest is Smith Rock without a doubt. I love Smith so much and it kills me that it’s a 5-day drive to get there. They definitely have a lock down on the best local scene. I can show up any year and see the same old friends and faces warming up on Magic Light and running laps on Darkness; and Bend is such a cool town. Ten Sleep and the nearby Crazy Woman crags have been my summer home for the past three years. I love Bighorn Dolomite and there is still so much to be developed. Putting up routes at Crazy Woman has been a really special time for me. I doubt it will ever become a popular area, definitely not compared to Ten Sleep, but I truly believe that it’s one of America’s best summer spots. We put up about 50 quality routes in a gorgeous setting that can require a down jacket in August. For the US, that’s really unique.
I’m also really excited about the work you did at the Fins. It’s a small area but those are some of the best face climbs in America. I would love to get back out there to try some of the harder routes you put up.
I agree that the day to day internet spray gets really old and I often find myself yawning as I type up another article about someone sending a V14. I really just don’t care anymore! The only thing I’m still excited about is the act of climbing, actually getting out there and doing it.
But I have to constantly remind myself who our audience is. Many of them haven’t been following climbing for twenty years like we have. I remember being a young climber and rewatching a VHS tape of “Masters of Stone” until it was so grainy I couldn’t see it anymore; but it didn’t matter because I had it memorized. I’d soak in every word of a climbing magazine trying to decipher the cryptic vernacular that I didn’t yet understand. I was so stoked on everything about climbing. It still had that magical allure that fades a bit as you get older and achieve some of the things that once seemed impossible. It’s important for me to remember what that was like and speak to that large portion of our audience. If I’d had DPM back then I would have read every word and watched every video. Of course, Al Gore hadn’t even invented the internet yet so…
That said, to answer your question, I think only two climbers really stand out currently as a step above everyone else: Adam Ondra and Ashima Shiraishi. It seems like an obvious cop out answer but they’re the future of difficult climbing right now and their achievements are certainly impressive. But I’ve watched the top end of difficulty creep up for so long that even that is just expected. I get most excited to see new areas get developed like when I saw those first pictures of the Fins in Idaho. I was blown away that a wall like that existed in the US and I didn’t know about it!
Most inspiring to me, and the best part of my job, is being able to travel, climb, and work with the athletes that we report on at DPM. I got to go to the Red to film Ashima and snap some photos of Tommy Caldwell at Wild Iris, for example. A year after I saw those pics of the Fins on the internet, I was there, climbing those routes and taking photos of your latest 5.14. Not only is that beneficial to me as a climber, but also to our readers. I love having the ability to be “on the scene.”
I think it's impossible to stay totally motivated on climbing all the time unless you can travel full time. I did that for a long time but at some point, you have to live somewhere and I can't think of a better place than the NRG. I've really built a life for myself here and just feel like this region is in my blood.
For years I had this hardcore drive to climb new routes every day. I'd leave the house and it would only feel like a good day if I ticked off two routes that I hadn't done before. And there was always another project to stay psyched about. Even with 3000 routes in the region, that starts to get difficult after a while and I've had to just shift my view of what climbing means to me and become more comfortable with a slower approach.
There are long periods of time where I'll just go climbing for the sake of it, repeating classics, or showing someone around like when you were here. That's really fun for me now, to show others how amazing this place is and watch them slowly fall in love with the rock and the area.
There are other times, usually in the depths of winter, when all I do is hike and rappel by myself, looking for new routes. 98% of the time, I end up coming home having rapped a blank wall or found some chossy, ledge-ridden, one-move wonder. I enjoy those days just as much though. I just love being outside and exploring and seeing something special like the other day when some Peregrines put on the most spectacular display I'd ever seen. I didn't climb shit that day but it was amazing.
Then, without fail, just when I think the entire region is tapped and I can't find anything, I stumble across a route so mind-bogglingly amazing that it completely captures me until I send it and that might take months. Right now, that's happened in the Cirque and I've really started seeing that wall with a new eye that I didn't have a few years ago. It reminded me that even if I've looked at something once, it's always worth a 2nd and 3rd look because your vision changes with time and age. Things that may have looked impossible in the past can look different now.
Before I know it, my 8 month stay at home is over and I'm driving West again to look for more routes in Wyoming. It's a long-term pattern that I've fallen into and I really enjoy every part of it. It's not as fast-paced as it used to be when I was able to enjoy a new onsight attempt every day at the crag, but I like this too. I'm sure this pattern that I'm currently enjoying will probably change in the future, but that's just life. The one constant, though, is being out on those perfect days where your skin just sticks to the texture of Nuttall Sandstone. If I make it to 80, I'll be happy just hobbling up to Bridge Buttress and grabbing a head-high crimper. The rock here is just incredible.
Man, I’m 35. I ran out of Octobers five years ago. Fortunately, due to global warming, November is the new October and I’ve got plenty of those left. Australia is really it! I'd love to climb everywhere, every route if I could, but that's just not possible. I really want to climb Punks in the Gym and take a good stab at Groove Train. Anything beyond that is a bonus. It'd be great to travel more in Europe too but truthfully, I really enjoy being in the States. I love the comfort of living in the van and having a bit of stability. Elissa likes that too. It's hard for us to spend months living out of a suitcase, and there's still so much climbing I'd like to do here! Rumney, Lion's Head, Mill Creek, Monastery, Smith...
For the ten thousand climbers that have been to the Red countless weekends and still never followed through with a trip to the New, let's hear the top 5 reasons why we shouldn't turn off I-64 towards Slade... The fact that you guys won the B-Ball tournament is a given...
First off, people should do what they want. The Red and the New are both world-class crags but for whatever reason more people go to the Red. If that's what they like, they should keep climbing there. Not everyone is going to see things the same way I do. I love the Red; it's amazing and for someone that hasn't been to either area, I'd probably recommend the Red first. It's easier to adapt to and have fun immediately, but for what it's worth:
1. Cooler hang: Fayetteville is a tiny town but there's a lot more going on than in Slade. We've got a couple really good restaurants and the coolest gear shop in the East. The new AAC campground has really rounded out the experience. Rest days are WAY better. There's world-class whitewater, mountain bike trails, hiking, fishing, coffee shops, a library, and a movie theater 20 minutes away. Just being in Fayetteville is a bit of vacation on its own.
2. The view: Sorry Red, but you're ugly. Don't get me wrong, there's some pretty spots, but most of the time you're just surrounded by pine trees and oil derricks. There's a busted old jeep at the base of the Lode and Euro's take dumps behind it. For real. The New, however, is gorgeous. The view from the top of a route at Endless Wall is jaw-dropping. It's 1000 feet down to the river and you can see for miles up and downstream. At Summersville Lake you're pretty much climbing above pristine blue water. Every crag is unique and beautiful.
3. Diversity of climbing: The New might be the most diverse climbing area in the country. There are splitter cracks, traditionally-protected face climbs, corners, arêtes, horizontal ceilings, slabs, and everything else. The only thing it doesn't have is height. Everything is single pitch.
4. Rock: Nuttall sandstone is the best rock on the planet...I think. I'll know for sure when I get back from Australia. It's bullet hard and creates all types of holds from pockets to jugs. Also, there are tons of crimps. I really like crimpers.
5. Lack of crowds: The place is dead empty from November to May. A sunny day in the Cirque in December would include climbing in T-shirts, low humidity, sticky 'send conditions,' and zero people. It's just crazy. Where else can you climb on one of the best walls in the world and be the only party there?