Steve Hong: What I’ve Learned

Over 150 FAs in Canyonlands, National Sport Climbing Champion (1997), 5.14 Weekend Warrior, Dermatologist, Age 57, Boulder, Colorado.

By Steve Hong | August 15th, 2017

Steve Hong. Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 204 (September 2012).

Average ability plus hard work gets my respect way more than natural talent plus laziness. Climbing is a perfect sport for setting goals because everything is numbered. Set your goals high, but not too high. If you aren’t progressing, stop frustrating yourself and move on.

There is a dangerous period for young climbers when they experience the combination of being young, fearless and overconfident about their abilities, which can lead to death. I have been climbing for over 40 years, and like everyone else I’ve learned best from my mistakes. As a young and mediocre climber, I was once talked into soloing Ruper (5.8) in Eldorado Canyon, following Brian Delaney as he scampered up it without a second thought. After sweating and shaking through the crux a few hundred feet up, I knew I didn’t need that kind of excitement.

Climbing at Nationals and getting spanked by my son Matty is just as satisfying as climbing at Nationals and winning.

I am a hypocrite. I want my nice climbing gyms. I like big crowds for competitions, money and fame for the competitors, and climbing teams for my children. But who likes crowds at the cliffs? We all value those perfect climbing trips when no one was there. I was lucky to be able to spend a few years picking over miles of cliffs in Canyonlands with no one around. Lately I have been scrounging around in the Wicked Cave in Rifle, bolting the last lines. The first ascentionists of tomorrow will have slim pickings; climbing is no longer an obscure activity.

People only change when they see value in it or try to mimic qualities they admire. Not only is it rude to try to change your friends or partner to your liking, it never works. They are not malleable 4-year-olds. Appreciate their good qualities and tolerate their bad ones.

As you get older, the four- to five-hour training sessions or climbing five days a week are things of the past. I recommend taking advantage of your young health and developing a strong base. When you’re old, you can rely on that to still climb hard (maybe not quite as hard) without the training.

Your climbing partners are usually your best friends. You both have a job. Keep up with them physically and give them incentive to train and stay on track. It is a rare climber that can motivate solo. Humans are a competitive species. Use competition wisely for motivation, and keep it positive.

Wasting a year or half your life is an atrocity… you don’t get it back. Wasting a few hours or days here and there is healthy.

People decay at different rates; it is in their genes. Our hospitals are full of self-induced disease (alcohol, smoking, obesity), and we are responsible for much of this decay. The most critical time is when everything is growing, before age 15—when you don’t care. Raise your children with this in mind. Teach them the value of sports and challenging their bodies.

My son has spoken about the “next generation” of climbers, and he is only 20! Climbers that are now raised in gyms have abilities far beyond anything I will achieve. These climbers are specialized—only bouldering, only ropes, only plastic, only competitions. But if you want to be a fulfilled climber, learn to like it all.

Some climbers say they are getting too old to climb. If you give it up, I promise you will get older a lot faster.


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