Steve Shea Brings Old School Values to the Next Generation

Q:  How long have you been climbing? Since 1967.

Q: What type(s) of climbing do you like to do? BITD grade IV, V free climbs. Cracks, Yosemite, Diamond, etc. Plus short hard free routes. Alpine climbing, mixed rock/ice. These days I enjoy fun free climbing in the sun, cragging. I like to place pro.

Q: What drives you? As a friend and old climbing partner John Long says, "climbing is the king of sports."   For me it is, and I want to keep at it while I can.

Q: What inspired you to start climbing? To see the other side of the mountain.  And to see if I could.

Q: What is your proudest ascent?  That is tough to answer.  Each goal was very special.  A mostly free ascent of the Nose. My free ascent of Diamond D7/ Curving Vine.  Certain short free climbs-off widths BITD.  The Dru Couloir Direct 1st Ascent, Eiger NF winter in the '70s, new routes in Chamonix and Tibet.  I can't say, there are so many memories.

Q:  What is the worst experience you have had on a climb? Have you ever gotten that 'sinking feeling' in your stomach? Yes, on the Grand Central Couloir on the North Face of Mount Kitchener in the Canadian Rockies. We were well up on the lower ice field and just got a bad feeling. The isotherm was too high and we just knew something was not right.  It was too warm. We decided to rappel off.  Not a half hour after crossing the bergschrund the entire lower apron avalanched down to black ice. By then we were out on the approach glacier and away from the deposition. It was big! We came close on that one. But for the grace...

Q: Where is your favorite place in the Tetons? The north side of the Grand Teton. It is a very alpine environment with lots of things to do (ice/mixed) if you follow the conditions closely.

Q: Do you have any training methods that work best for you? Climbing. In lieu of that, training at Wright Training. I have never been much for climbing gyms. They are good for upper body strength but worthless for footwork. Crystal Wright is a climber and has a great approach to overall fitness. Even the movement between workout stations is part of her program. I have been able to maintain climbing fitness easily at Wright Training. You just have to put the work in. Then climb a lot.

Q:  How are you raising your family around climbing? I have twin 15-year-olds, Ann and Steve. We climb as much as our schedules permit. They are in the Jackson Hole High School mountaineering club. The club is staffed by teachers who guide in the summers. It is a great resource for the kids. They also work out at Wright Training and are participating in alpine ski racing and USSA.  We are a mountain sports family and climb mostly trad.

Q: What was your first pair of climbing shoes? Kronhofers

Q:  In your eyes, how has climbing evolved over the past 20 0r 30 years? Technology has certainly changed for the better.  Stronger, lighter materials. New equipment designs. It is really fun to see the changes. It is great to see more people getting out and enjoying the crags and mountains. I'm not a fan of the new "adventure" though. Cell phones, GPS, and other gizmos as part of the kit. I think it gives a false sense of security and preparation. It short circuits getting real experience in some cases. I know that dates me, but when I am out there I want to be out there. I think that mindset makes you more resilient and better prepared.


Q:  Who do you look up to? The pioneers. Buhl, Terray, Gervasutti etc. Having climbed some of their routes it is a wonder that they got off the ground with the equipment they had. I think the best alpinist ever was Jerzy Kukuczka.

Q:  Did you have a mentor? Not really. It was the blind leading the blind. However, Boulder back in the sixties was full of climbers willing to share knowledge.

Q:  Do you have any advice for up and coming climbers? Focus and really prepare. Enjoy the day. There is never a bad day if you're climbing. You always experience and learn.  Even in retreat, bad weather, and lousy bivouacs. Experience is the path forward.

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