Brittany Griffith: What I’ve Learned
Age 48, SLC, all-around rock climber, early pro, has climbed in 63 countries.
This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 243 (July 2017).
I flew 125,000 miles last year. I was in South America and Africa twice each in the span of five months. Every weekend in the States I’m somewhere: Zion, American Fork, Logan Canyon. It’s a really funny feeling to wake up on a Saturday in the house. I think, What do I do? What do people do?
I went to Patagonia for the first three weeks of the year, with Kate Rutherford and Ann Gilbert Chase. It was super fun. When you’re climbing with guys, everyone falls into jobs. We assume these kinds of blue jobs and pink jobs. When you’re with all ladies, it’s interesting to see who does what. It’s not spoken, it just happens. Kate did the firewood, I cook, Gilbert carries the heavier pack. We settle into this efficiency.
When I started climbing, I fell in love with it. The climbing, the travel, the adventure, living outside, doing everything outside. It was the first thing that made sense to me. I never aspired to be a professional climber. I did a variety of jobs, from mowing lawns to cleaning houses in Yosemite West. I worked at trade shows. I had hustled for work my whole life. I had worked since I was 10. My mom was raising four kids. There wasn’t a lot of extra money around.
I was never very good. I had to invent what I could be useful for: from product feedback for Patagonia that led to being an ambassador, to setting up events for the American Alpine Club. I write for Patagonia, I work in their stores if they need a climbing display set up. I built this A smile and a rainbow in Kenya last year. big installation, showing Tommy Caldwell’s bivy on El Cap, in a store in Manhattan. I’m not Chris Sharma, not Lynn Hill, even remotely. I mean, I was good, but I climb 12c. I did that after a year. I’ve never gotten better. I don’t focus on any one type of climbing. That’s how people get really good.
In some ways I should be thankful for that. Because I’m stickin’ it. I’ve been doing it for 25 years. There were people who were very good getting paid for their skills, [but] for a short time. I never wanted anything for free … I wanted to work, work at events, test things, help out in the way I can. At the Hueco Rock Rodeo I made 200 crepes.
I’ve done first ascents in half a dozen countries. In Kenya we did a big first ascent on Mount Ololokwe. J.T. [Jonathan Thesenga], Kate, Eric Bissell and I went. It was 800 feet, 12 pitches up to 5.13a. Five 5.12s. There’s only one 5.10. There’s super runout 12c.
OK, I’ve climbed 5.13, but don’t consider myself a 5.13 climber. I’m a 5.12 climber because I can do that anywhere in the world, trad and sport, steep limestone or runout Joshua Tree 12a.
I’m glad I learned to sport climb at Smith Rock. It changed my standards on what constitutes hard or scary. We didn’t have stick clips. You routinely climbed to the first bolt 15 feet off the ground. You had to climb body lengths between bolts and take big falls … I appreciated having to keep your shit together, getting scared, not just the exercise of climbing but the mental aspect and being brave and just the pure focus. Then I could go to Stolby, Siberia, where people mass solo [as the norm] … and climb in Otterspock, the Czech Republic, where you can only place knotted slings.
What I’ve learned from traveling is not about climbing. If it was only about climbing I would just stay in Utah. There’s a lifetime of climbing here. I don’t need to go to Algeria or Yemen, [where] I could be shot, it’s about how you experience the world through climbing. Like when people say Muslims hate women, I say, “Oh, really? I was treated with respect.” I don’t want to get my experience from Time magazine and CNN. I want to see how people live. The kindness I’ve been shown—people will give you their last date and last water. I’ve been treated with such kindness around the world, it makes me want to be a better person.
One person was 17. Two others were only 22. The people herein span every decade beyond the teens and extend to someone who reached 96.
Each year we compile our annual tribute to Climbers We Lost. Each year it feels bigger, and bigger means sadder. This year has seemed particularly painful in that we have some multiple accidents: two leading alpinists attempting a winter ascent in the Himalaya; three such in the Canadian Rockies; two little-known but extremely accomplished and well-prepared young women in the high Sierra.
We feel this compilation is important—maybe the most important thing we do all year.
We put effort and heart in the project but cannot cover everyone, and are always sad to leave anyone out, often inadvertently. We always encourage you to add photos and remembrances of any others in the comments field.
This year’s is our biggest compilation yet. We wish it were far smaller, while taking comfort in the accounts of those who lived long, fulfilling and often extremely impressive natural lifespans. Please, everyone, be careful out there.
—Alison Osius and Michael Levyread more