“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
Ernest Hemingway

The Equity of Climbing: The Story of a Not so Normal Route Setter

After some relative climbing related accomplishments including a sponsorship with Evolv Sports, ambassador memberships with Friction Labs, copious pro-purchase options with leading climbing companies such as Black Diamond Equipment and Sterling Ropes, as well as several published climbing related articles, I can finally begin to articulate what climbing means to me as an individual.


The equity of climbing, if you will.

Years ago I was living in Portland, Oregon, drinking heavily and succumbing to the pressures of city living by escaping to drunken abandonment and experimental drug use. My friend and housemate at the time, Adam Rice, an adventurer who often sought the sharp-end, pried me to join him for an indoor bouldering session. After copious discussions about my being a former United States Junior Olympic ski racer, Adam saw the love affair that could develop between climbing and I, thus began his queries. Being impressionable and requiring something to end my battles with boredom (addiction), reluctantly, I agreed to join him.

Adam agreed to buy my day pass to The Circuit Bouldering Gym in southwest Portland. I rented some shaggy climbing shoes that smelled like the great depression and had weathered rubber that stuck like worn bowling shoes. I put them on my feet and met Adam at a vertical wall. He put me in front of a purple V0 and pointed to the colored tape I needed to follow upwards. I left the ground flailing wildly up the plastic holds, my feet dangling in space and desperately searching the wall for register; it was ugly and uncontrolled, but I felt the overwhelming sense of accomplishment that comes with topping out.

It was a huge step forward (or should I say upwards), a lesson in focus; something I desperately needed in life.

Now before I continue, I’d like to come to my own defense so none of you think I’m a drop dead loser or something. It’s not as if I was ever institutionalized for dependence on drugs or alcohol. At the end of the day my decisions could be chalked up to youth (pardon the pun), or rather, being an immature young man with too much time on his hands. I would hate for you, dear reader, to think of me as a reprobate. The reality is I probably didn’t drink or experiment any more or less than other people at that age, but the point is, climbing helped fill a void in my life that was otherwise spent on rebellious activities, versus those that are productive in nature, like climbing and skiing.

Back to the story.

My phone rang late in the evening one night. It was far too late for someone to be calling for a rudimentary reason. I checked the caller ID and noticed it was my long-time friend Kaya calling. She was either drunk dialing or delivering terrible news. Somehow, I knew it was the latter.

I answered.

Her voice was shaky. “Erin died last night Jonathan. She overdosed.”

I’d known Erin for at least 15 years. We were quite close and her death marked the third person to die in a very short period of time, all from similar ends. My intuition told me my demise would be similar if I didn’t seek change, so right then and there I made a decision. I needed to get the hell out of town. I needed to start over.

I’m leaving this city first thing tomorrow morning, I told myself. I even went so far as to contact all my friends and tell them I was leaving that night, many of whom begged me to stay for a, “proper sendoff,” but I knew if I didn’t act fast I would be stagnant forever.

The following day by way of a vicious hangover, I began packing. I grabbed my climbing rope, quick-draws, climbing shoes, some clothes and light personal items, put my pack on my back and headed out the door. I made my way to the nearest Trimet bus stop, boarded the next bus and traveled to the end of the line in Hillsboro outside the city limits. From there I walked to the interstate, put my thumb out, and headed west towards Highway 1 and California. My plan was to head as quickly as possible to Bishop, California, and immerse myself in the climbing community. I was hell bent on saving myself by way of rock-climbing. I figured by cutting all attachments and leaving debilitating habits and persons behind, it was a crash course in sobriety (old school rehab if you can imagine). While I can’t say it was easy, cutting all ties with my former self was far easier than deteriorating as food for drugs and alcohol in the city.

Without shame dearest reader I can assure you I succeeded in my endeavors. Now several years and several sleeping bags later, (not to mention climbing shoes, chalk-bags, tents, ropes, draws, and so on), I’m proud to say, climbing and the natural world in part has saved my life, and now I find myself in the White Mountains because of the sport we cherish. For me and many others in the climbing community the sport is anything but a useless pursuit. I’ve changed my entire life to attain intimate climbing goals and the result of this quest has been in finding a much better person buried deep inside and one that was waiting to burst out all the while.

Disclaimer: Please understand I’m not saying something this drastic will work for everyone, but it worked for me; not to mention, it’s quite a story to tell! My decision was definitely a gamble and can be perceived as “reckless,” but the end result is magnificent and certainly worth telling.

Get up and move… Don’t waste another minute suffering under the control of any substance, nor be the victim to laziness. Get out and aspire to commune with nature often; free yourself damn it!

Rock-climbing is special, there’s no doubt about it. It isn’t limited to physical prowess alone. The mental aptitude of a person under pressure determines success in the climbing forum and, because climbers confront this truth constantly, it allows for perpetual growth. The more a person puts into climbing, the more they get back. Train hard and you will climb hard! Period. I marvel at how far I’ve come as an individual because of the sport we love (and skiing, running, hiking, mountain biking, swimming, backpacking, etc). What I’ve found during personal reflection is something worth celebrating, so I wrote it down here in order to share it with the community. With hope, perhaps I’ll inspire someone to change. And at the risk of sounding like a cliche, if one person out there finds purpose because of this piece, that’s reward enough. (Or hell, send me a check and make it out to Jonathan Hogue!)

Keep on climbing. Keep on aspiring to improve yourself.


Words by: Jonathan Hogue

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the North Country Climbing Center.