The Importance of Mentorship in Climbing

Ben Crawford Apr 25th 2021
  • Ben Crawford
  • Photo credits: Thank you to Savannah Cummins for the photos of Kyle and the climbing team.

The Modern Era of Climbing

Climbing as a sport and a lifestyle has undergone a rapid transformation in the past decade. What was once a niche and counter-culture activity, is now very much a part of the mainstream. Knowledge, ethics, and values that were once passed on through shared experience can now get lost in the wake of a swift transition between climbing in the gym and your first outdoor experience. Popular outdoor cliffs are becoming more and more crowded as more people find a passion and love for climbing. In its essence, this is wonderful! Everyone deserves to experience the joy that climbing and the lifestyle around it can bring to your life. But with this shift, comes a responsibility of education and ensuring that we move forward in a respectful and sustainable way. This way, we can all continue to enjoy climbing outside together.

  • Ben Crawford
  • Photo credits: Thank you to Savannah Cummins

Mentorship in my life

I’ve been climbing for nearly a decade at this point. And as happens with so many, from my first time tying in, climbing took over my whole life. I had never felt such an intense drive and passion for something before. It was more than just the act of climbing. Sure, the feeling of pushing yourself to your limit and moving over rock is incredible. But the true richness in climbing comes from the nuance surrounding the activity itself. It comes from experiences shared and the connection to others within the lifestyle.

I’ve learned so much from my mentors in the climbing world. And not just about climbing different rock faces. I’ve learned so much about how to be a better version of myself and be a positive influence in the world. One of my earliest mentors in climbing was Bernard Gillett, a total badass in the climbing world in the 90’s and 2000’s. He was one of the early developers of rock climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park. I remember him telling stories of sitting in a meadow in Glacier Gorge with a pair of binoculars. He would scope his next line from the valley floor and then quest up massive granite faces, indulging in the true adventure of climbing. Bernard is a man that I look up to greatly in climbing. He is a climber through and through. Someone deeply in love with the activity and the joy it can bring to people’s lives. I believe that it’s important to have these figures in our lives. People that we look up to and idolize. People with a great understanding of the climbing world but more importantly, people that are patient and willing to share their knowledge and experience with others, trying to build a solid foundation for the next generation of climbers.

It is through mentorship that we offer longevity to our sport. Eventually, those bolts we’re clipping will need to be replaced and trails will need to be rebuilt. Often, this sort of knowledge is passed from a mentor to an eager learner. And in doing so, we create stewards of our community.

  • Kyle and the climbing team
  • Photo credits: Savannah Cummins

A True Mentor

Over the years, I’ve met many climbers and people that I genuinely look up to. People that are driven and passionate in their own climbing, but allow space in their lives to give back. To selflessly work in enriching the lives of others. One of the people I perhaps look up to most in this way is Kyle O'meara. He has more love and appreciation for the world of climbing and the people in it than maybe anyone else I know. But what inspires me even more than his genuine passion for the sport, is his desire to share that passion and fuel the stoke of younger generations.

Kyle has been coaching youth teams for nearly a decade and has coached some of the country’s top climbers like Nathaniel Coleman and Dalton Bunker. His roots in coaching began with a team he built in Tahoe in 2012. His passion has only grown as he took a head coaching position for a youth competitive team for Momentum Climbing in Salt Lake City. He held this role for 7 years before passing the head coaching position to a former student, Palmer Larsen.

“Having the opportunity to hold any sort of mentorship role in climbing means a great deal to me. I feel lucky to have been shown ‘the ways’ to truly embrace life as a climber when I was relatively new to the sport by some older, wiser, more experienced, and incredibly kind people. The time I spent with them out at the rocks or in the gym throughout the years helped shape the love that I have for climbing, and the love I feel for life and the outdoors in general! It’s important for me to at least try to pass that wisdom, or perspective, or experience along to the next generation of climbers in a fun and meaningful way. It might help preserve the future of the sport along with the places and rocks that we get to climb the very least, we can positively impact some lives along the way through climbing, which is pretty cool!”
-Kyle O'meara

Kyle is a lifer. Someone who has climbed much of his adult life and strives to keep climbing as long as he possibly can. In his years of climbing he has gained a sort of wisdom. An appreciation for the genuine nature of the sport and what it can bring to our lives. It is in this wisdom that mentors like Kyle can teach us all a bit about how to enjoy climbing for many years. Any young gun out of the gym has the strength and skill to show us how to put down our projects, but a mentor will show us how to enjoy the sport for the rest of our lives.  

To Kyle, coaching has become a huge outlet for how he gives back to the climbing community. He has devoted many hours of his life to foster the development of these kids and to keep the psyche alive in them.

People like Kyle inspire me to turn in and reflect on what I have to offer to the climbing community. How can I shift my role to help others find their own drive and passion within the world of climbing? For me, this starts with an intention. An intention to reach out at the cliff to new climbers and offer bits of insight when appropriate. It means investing more time into others: contributing to their development and growth. It also means investing into community; the backbone of the climbing lifestyle.

  • Ben Coaching Bouldering
  • Photo credits: Savannah Cummins

What does this mean for us?

I believe that it is in this space of mentorship, that true change can happen in the world. Mentorship provides the opportunity to lead by example. To be our best selves, and open the space for others to do the same. To offer guidance in how to treat the community and the spaces we interact in, with the utmost respect. And to gain a true level of appreciation for how damn lucky we are to be a part of the climbing community and spend our free time engaging in such a powerful activity.

Ultimately, not all of us are going to be ‘Kyle O’mearas’ in the world of climbing. But I think that we could all use a reminder that reaching out and offering a bit of perspective and guidance to a new climber goes farther than you would think. A climber exiting the gym for the first time and entering the large, intimidating world of outdoor rock climbing, can look remarkably similar to a fish floundering out of water. We’ve all been at the cliff when we see something borderline unsafe going on. Someone loading a grigri the wrong way or tying into only one hard point. It’s important that we recognize that everyone is in a different place in their learning of the sport, and to act as mentors and stewards to do our best in guiding others in the world in a way that betters the community as a whole. The reality is that we all have something to offer to others, whether that be in terms of experience and hard skills, or just a bit of guidance in how we navigate this tricky balance of climbing and life. It is in this frame of mind that we can all learn and grow, and help build a sustainable climbing future together.

About the Author

Ben is a climber, photographer, and nursing student based in the western U.S. He spends much of his free time traveling to different sport climbing destinations pursuing growth as a climber and a human."