Today here at Dynamic Soarer I want to introduce you to another amazing person I was able to work with over the past year and a half in Japan. His name is Jon and he happens to be a Naval Officer primarily, but during his off time you can probably find him out in the wilderness somewhere, ready to scale a mountain, or perched at the top of one. In Japan he would invite a group of us over to his house, grill us up some good food, pop the caps off of some exceptional brews, fire up the hukah, and turn on youtube to watch videos about… climbing. That’s what we’re going to focus on today, CLIMBING!
Its not too often that I run into people that are extremely passionate about what they do, a hobby they have, or that second life outside of work. Although you can find much joy in the job you do on a daily basis, its better to dig deeper inside yourself and find the passion that drives you on. Already summiting 5 different peaks, Jon has done that with climbing and I want to share his passion with you today in this interview.
The first question of the day is pretty simplistic in nature, Where did it all begin Jon, and how did you come to love climbing so much?
“Let’s see, when I was 13, my older brother (21 at the time) and I went on a winter drive with our parents through the Black Hills of South Dakota. He wanted to take me rappelling. I was terrified of heights, but always trusted my big bro and didn’t want to wuss out on him. We scrambled up the back side of a 40′ cliff that hung over a stream which was frozen solid. He expertly built an anchor on some trees and gave me a crash course on rappelling. I was convinced the trees would rip out of the cliff under my weight while the anchor slings turned to dust as the rope snapped.
To top it off, I was certain I would crash through the ice below and die a horrible, young death. “Just walk backwards and keep your brake-hand Iike I taught you,” he reassured me. My mother nervously watched her youngest son buzz down the rope and make it safely back to the car. My hands were freezing and I was grinning ear to ear. I was hooked. Between that day and my freshman year of college, I didn’t do much climbing other than a little scrambling here and there. I had no gear, not even climbing shoes, but I still had that desire to learn more about the vertical world.”
“In college, I signed up for an Outdoor Adventures climbing trip to a little top rope crag in southern Texas. That was my first real climbing experience, and I continued to progress from there.”
There are many athletes in every sport, for those of us not prone to the climbing world, which climber inspires you the most, and can you tell us a little bit about him/her?
“Alex Honnold. The dude dropped out of college to pursue his passion for climbing, and is now a prominent name within the community. You see him in front of the camera (not climbing) and he strikes you as this kinda awkward, goofy guy who likes to live out of a van (down by the river!).
Then you see him do these mind-blowing free solo ascents (no rope, no gear) on some of the hardest routes in the world, climbing thousands of feet of technical rock in mere hours…routes that sometimes take even seasoned climbers multiple days to complete…with all their gear which prevents them from splattering on the rocks below. His ability to focus on the climb and his lack of fear (or ability to suppress it) is pretty inspiring and mind blowing at the same time..”
Now, I’m sure the prospect of a rad climb is enough to lead you in the direction of the mountain, but it must be awesome to share the experience of summiting different peaks with different friends, Who are some of your favorite people to go climbing with?
“My longest time climbing-buddy-rad-bromance is with this dude named Michael. We went to college together for a couple years. When we discovered we were both into climbing, we decided the school’s rock wall was the best place to spend an afternoon…every afternoon. We both really got into top roping there, pushing each other to improve. A route called ‘Purple People Eater’ was our first project, a 5.8. We had our own name for it… ‘Devil’s Chode,’ due to an…interesting feature that was particularly difficult to get past.”
“A week later, it went. We were thrilled…a couple weeks later, 5.9 ‘Closes at Four’ went. Super stoked…about this time, we started learning the ins and outs of lead climbing. My best moment on that wall was the afternoon we both lead our first 5.10a, ‘Puns for Punks,’ which finally happened after two weeks of falling at the second to last move. The weekends often found us at places like Carderock or Rocks State Park in Maryland. I say all this about Michael because he was my first climbing partner…we’ve been through the noob days of locking biners on chalk bags together, caught each other’s falls on our first leads, and have since traveled together to climb in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Garden of the Gods, Colorado, Crestone Needle in the Sangres de Cristo range…with endless trips planned for the future. Our most recent ascent was of a 100m spire in Miyazaki, Japan on the side of Mt. Hieizan.”
“There’s also some other really awesome people I like to climb with, Dan, Melissa, 2 other Michaels, Lizzy, Ray, Kris, Brandon, James, and John to name a few, but sometimes my favorite people to go climbing with are the people who are out there doing what they love. I’ve had opportunities to climb with old friends, complete strangers, and people I don’t even share a common language with. We’re all out there because we’re passionate about it, and that’s what counts.”
Above we talked about which climber inspires you the most, so now tell us about where your “soul-inspiration” come from?
“I think of the old-timers…the real pioneers of modern day climbing who forged the way for my generation. Fred Beckey comes to mind, and a few old school Japanese climbers I’ve had the privilege to meet and learn from…well into their 70s and 80s, still out doing what they have been passionate about many more decades than I’ve been alive. I hope also to one day be as active and awesome as them at that age.”
So above I stated that you’ve climbed 5 mountains (over 12,000′), which 5 peaks have you summited and out of those, which one was the hardest?
2. Wheeler Peak
3. Crestone Needle
4. Humbolt Peak
5. Mt. Whitney
“Mt. Whitney was the hardest peak I’ve summited so far. We took the the Mountaineer’s Route just this past January.”
Summiting 5 peaks is pretty awesome but I know you don’t intend to stop there, I’m sure your top 10 doesn’t scratch the surface, but we’ll start with that for now. What are the top 10 peaks you hope to summit in the future?
1. Grand Teton
8. Fitz Roy
Aside from where you want to someday go and all of the peaks you want to summit, Where is one of your favorite, fun places to climb in the world, even if its easy and even if you’ve done it multiple times?
“I have been to Miyazaki, Japan nine times in the past 2.5 years. The landscape is breathtaking with crystal clear rivers winding through a deep green valley ripped apart by jagged, beautiful granite features ranging from 1-8 pitches. There is good ice climbing in the winter, and so much rock I could climb for months and not touch it all. It is where I led my first multipitch trad route and also had the privilege of introducing new climbers to the sport. It is here in these mountains of Kyushu Island Japan I’ve met some pioneers of the trade and learned so much from the old timers on those mountains… the experiences have been invaluable.”
Technicalities, Technicalities, every major sport has them and we want to learn a few from you! What are some climbing terms, some gear you swear by, and where to buy it?
A few kinda weird terms that come to mind are…
“Dyno” – dynamic move to reach the next hold by leaping…hands and feet momentarily come off the wall
“Crimp” – when a hold is so small, you can only get finger tips on it
“Glissade” – fancy word for purposefully sliding down a steep snow field
“Flapper” – rip of chunk of skin off your finger…remedied with glue or tape
“Epic” – a trip that turns crazy due to unforeseen circumstances (weather, injury, way harder climbing than expected, explosive diarrhea, etc.)
“As for gear, passive and active protection (stoppers and cams) always come with me on trad climbs. I also take various alpine draws because of their versatility. Gotta have a good belay/rappelling device as well. My favorite is Petzl’s Reverso. I’ve been an REI guy forever…a few years ago, I was looking in one of their stores for a GoPro chest mount. The sales rep told me they no longer carried them, but had an old display, one they didn’t use any more. He walked to the back storage room, returned moments later with the mount, and gave it to me for free. That’s customer service…and their membership benefits are pretty cool, too.”
Just from what you’ve told us about climbing equipment, it doesn’t seem like it is a very cheap sport, especially when you need different kinds of gear for different kinds of climbing. As far as budget goes, how expensive is it to make climbing a hobby and how do you divide expenses up to make it work?
“Gear is pretty expensive…but I’ve amassed my stuff over many years, a little bit at a time. Ropes get old and shoes wear out, but spread over time, it’s not so bad to budget for the things I need. Aside from that, transportation is a big’n. Plane tickets, rental cars, gas, beer…it adds up, but I budget for a trip well in advance and try to save as much money as possible during the trip.”
Are there any other other extreme sports you participate in?
“Just climbing. I recently took an ice climbing trip to the Banff and Canmore area…my climbing partner was much more knowledgeable and experienced on the subject than me. It was a steep, week-long learning curve that left me wanting more. I SCUBA dive and mountain bike every now and then, and would really like to get into kayaking.”
When we were in Japan together, I kinda thought you would get an idea in your head about a place to climb and then you would just go out and climb it. Now I’m thinking there’s a little bit more rhyme or reason to it then that. When you plan a climbing trip even if the mountain is not that big, where do you start and how do you plan it?
“First I figure out who I am going with. Regardless of the complexity or difficulty of the climb, sharing the experience with like-minded people is always a plus. Then I narrow down the dates of the trip, work out the details of my packing list, and figure out transportation. Lastly, I see if there are any good music and/or beer events going on in a nearby city because climbing, music, and beer with good friends are just…smart.”
As far as saving up to live your dream, how much do you think you should have if you aren’t going to work and instead take to the road, live simply, and climb?
“A billion bucks, probably. That’s a tough question to answer because I’ve never taken the opportunity to just go and figure it out. I’ve always been restricted by timelines from school, work, or other responsibilities…but I hope to provide you a more precise answer in the next few years…” [This I look forward to, as I’m sure everyone else would too!]
Since having many chats with you, especially out at sea, standing watch in the middle of the night, I know that you would drop everything and climb long term if you could. So I ask you now, If you were fully funded/sponsored for 2 years and you could climb to your hearts content, where would you go?
“I’ve wanted to explore Patagonia since seeing 180 Degrees South a few years ago. I would spend quite a bit of time down there, I think. Also, an epic road trip all over North America would be sweet, stopping at various climbs, music festivals, and microbreweries. I want to learn how to skydive in hopes of one day learning to BASE jump and fly a wingsuit…that will take lots of moolah and lots of time, but it’s a dream I have.”
Thanks for stopping by Dynamic Soarer for an Interview Jon, it was an awesome article to write!
“It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” -Edmund Hillary
If you have any other climbing questions for Jon please write them in the comments below or fill out your information in the contact form and he will be more than happy to answer them for you.