Rock climber, mountaineer, and guide Peter Croft is famous for completing long routes in Yosemite National Park, the Sierra, and Squamish, BC. He's made first ascents around the world, written several guidebooks, and was featured in Fifty Favorite Climbs: The Ultimate North American Tick List. Mountain talked to him at home in Bishop, California.
As a kid, I was never really that interested in climbing. The media makes it seem like a super macho, dangerous sport, and that didn't intrigue me. Then a friend gave me I Chose To Climb [by Chris Bonington], and it gave me a much clearer idea of the sport. It's pure adventure. The moment I touched rock, I was hooked.
When I was learning to climb, I knew I was a knucklehead. There was no worrying about keeping my ego in check. I knew I was a liability, which was ultimately what kept me safe while I learned how to handle myself.
When you hear about somebody going off to free solo [climbing without ropes or harnesses], you only hear about the times they climb, not the times they back off. But my wife sees all the times I turn around because I'm not comfortable, or the weather isn't perfect, or I'm just not feeling it. Being willing and able to back off makes free soloing a lot safer.
The media doesn't just report. It also leads trends. For example, speed ascents are great. In an alpine setting, speed can make things safer. But when the media over-simplifies those speed ascents, the climbing population focuses on the number of minutes it takes to complete a route, not the style in which the route was climbed.
When I come out of the mountains I crave French fries. Maybe it's the salt. You have to get the thick, homemade kind. I once hallucinated the smell of French fries. I was five miles from the nearest road, but I was so sure that somebody was cooking nearby.
Being miserable in the outdoors can be horrendous, but the worst experiences make some of the most vivid memories. You have to dig way deeper to deal with it, and at the very least, it's enlightening. —Charlotte Austin