Climber Spotlight: Libby Sauter

In this week’s Climber Spotlight, we hear from the multi-talented badass, Libby Sauter. Libby is a climber, high liner, and a nurse. She also holds the women’s speed record for The Nose of El Capitan. Read on to hear her inspiring story:


1st pitch portaledge
“Mega gumby status on my first attempt at a wall. We may only have climbed one pitch all day but I am stoked to sleep in a portaledge!” Photo: Bryan Vogel

How did you get into climbing? Tell us about the early days of your climbing career.

I was first introduced to climbing at nature camp in sixth grade, but really cut my young teeth on the youth climbing team at a gym in Las Vegas. I lived for climbing for about 2 years but then the team dissolved and high school sports and activities interceded.

I started back at it in college and we were such classic over-excited newbies. Taking clinics, bailing off routes, living at the gym, getting benighted … we were so excited about the adventures it didn’t matter if we made it to the top or not!

Libby Sauter highlining in Spain
Highlining in Spain—just because! Photo: Patryk Patrkowski

How do you balance your love for climbing with your career as a nurse?

Climbing and nursing go together like cheddar popcorn and sour patch kids candy … Well that’s my favorite guilty pleasure combo at least!

Nursing has got to be the hands down best career to have as a dedicated climber. Full time nursing is 3 days per week with a decent pay check! You can do it all over the country or even in lots of places outside the US! And the options to work part time are endless!

So how do I do it? I work when I need to, climb when I want to. It’s amazing.

 

Related: 9 to 5 Ruins Lives

Libby nursing
Nursing in Ecuador, helping to bring pediatric heart surgery education to children everywhere. Photo: Pasha Shaunchecka

You hold the female speed record for the Nose. What is it about speed climbing that attracts you?

I don’t know why I have latched on to speed climbing as I have. But from my very first El Cap route, I was timing how long we took on each pitch and trying to move faster and faster. Perhaps it goes back to my youth when playing team sports, where there is a title or a championship that you play for.

 

Watch the footage of Mayan Smith-Gobat & Libby Sauter achieving the women’s speed record on The Nose of El Capitan:

Related: A Look at Speed Climbing: An Interview with Hans Florine

 

Tell us about one of your proudest moments in climbing.

The one that comes to mind was my first trip up the now damaged Regular Route on Half Dome. I’d successfully climbed one other wall with a more experienced partner a few weeks prior, but here I was at the base of Half Dome with someone less experienced than I was.

I had to teach my partner how to jumar at the base of the route and was so nervous looking up at that 2000 foot wall. We got off route, climbed into the night, shiver bivied, and barely made it down the next day. Back in camp that night, one of my teammates (I was new on YOSAR then) gave me a hug and a “congrats” and I felt like I had finally started to earn my place on the team.

Libby Sauter in Argentina
“On top of my first big FA in Northern Patagonia, Cenizas a Cenizas (4,000ft 5.10R A3).” Photo: Althea Rogers

Tell us about a not-so-proud moment in your climbing career.

Loosing it over not being able to get the portaledge set up and wailing on it with a hammer out of desperation? That one is funny now.

I remember this moment of real shame while climbing El Cap for the first time. I was really struggling to set up neat and efficient anchors and had approached this one particular anchor, determined to set up the cleanest best anchor El Cap had ever seen. 30 minutes later, stuck in a jumble of tangled ropes with poorly equalized anchor points and a cross loaded hauling device, I slumped against the wall crying. Not my finest moment.

Maybe that’s where my penchant for speed climbing came from—because I saw it as a way to compensate for being so very terrible at rope management.

 

Related: Climbing Rope Management During Rappel

Libby Sauter on Zodiak
“Learning how to big wall climb was not without its challenges. Mini epics on the Zodiac of El Capitan.” Photo: Chantel Astorga

If you could give one piece of advice to a beginner climber, what would it be?

Get excited and stay that way! In the beginning so much growth is open to you. Harnessing that excitement, peppering it with extra caution, and the words of your mentors, can take you to unimaginable places before you realize you are ready.

Who are your role models? If you could emulate any one climber’s attitude or style, who would it be?

I most admire my friends who are pushing big long routes while giggling. Those that are close to me like Quinn Brett, Mayan Smith Gobat, or Chantel Astorga.

 

Related: Mayan Smith-Gobat Climbing the Salathe Headwall

 

But I also really admire the way Alex Honnold and Hazel Findlay approach climbing—logically and without letting fear hamper their potential.

And then of course Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll and Nico Favresse. How can you not want to climb like those guys? They win not only because they do some seriously bad ass climbing but because they seem to always be having the most fun!

Libby on the Dihedral Wall of El Capitan
The Dihedral Wall of El Capitan. Photo: Tom Evans

What do you love most about climbing?

Libby Sauter
“Having fun is most important after staying safe! Halloween in Indian Creek is high in the fun factor!” Photo: Sandra Horna

Climbing has become my way of life. It has given me my community and friends. It has tested me and given me countless trials with success and defeat, equally represented.

I’ve learned an enormous amount about myself particularly when it comes to having confidence in my own judgement … but that isn’t to say I don’t have my bad days with climbing. I’ve been in this sport and in this community long enough to know that climbing is dangerous.That the mountains are as unforgiving and unfair as they are beautiful and tempting. The friends that I’ve lost to climbing and my own brush with serious accidents leaves me keenly aware of the risks.

And yet I keep coming back. Whatever it is, it must be damn good.


Thanks for sharing your story and perspective with us, Libby! Best of luck in all of your endeavors, and keep living your cheddar popcorn and sour patch kids candy combo dream!

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