In this week’s climber spotlight, Emily Stifler Wolfe tells us about her love for alpine granite, dirty offwidths, and conservation of our planet.
How did you get into rock climbing? Tell us about the early days of your climbing career.
I first climbed when I was 15, on the Treasure Mountain Chimneys during an Outward Bound course. They’re these super cool, high-elevation alpine spires at almost 13,000 feet in the Elk Mountains of Colorado. I didn’t climb again until I was a student at Colorado College. There, I spent every free moment at Turkey Rocks or Shelf Road. The steep granite splitters at Turkey were our proving ground and our church. Sometimes at the end of the day, we’d do the Turkey Sandwich, a 5.8 squeeze chimney that went up the inside of the crag that you had to do controlled breathing to enter.
It was great training for the Narrows on the Steck-Salathe, which I climbed years later. I feel super lucky to have climbed in so many amazing places in my first few years of climbing—Indian Creek, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Sawtooths, Tetons, Bugaboos, El Potrero Chico, Hueco Tanks, and Spain.
What kind of climber are you? Trad, sport, bouldering, alpine, ice? A little bit of everything?
I’ve done it all, but alpine granite is my favorite. My heart belongs in the mountains.
Describe one of your proudest climbing achievements.
Dirt rained in my eyes, filled my bra, and stuck to my sweat. I hacked at the moss with my hammer, raining hunks down toward my partner Rose. I’d been leading one pitch for nearly four hours, and was feeling peaked. Below, I’d struggled over a double-tiered roof with no feet, and thrashed up an overhanging offwidth aiding off a wobbly beak. Just a little ways further …
Eventually this route became Promiscuous, a physical two-pitch 5.10+ that cleaned up really well—turns out you can lieback the offwidth. I love climbing with women, and it was especially satisfying to do that route with Rose. We learned a ton, and stocked up on years of giggling.
I like hard work—I’ve climbed El Cap 5 times, worked as a ski patroller, a roofer, and on a trail crew. Because of that, this type of climbing really appeals to me.
Do you ever question the lifestyle you lead? Do you feel any pressure to be “normal” and get a 9-5 job?
Right after returning from a month-long expedition in the Cirque of the Unclimbables in 2010, I turned 30. The same week, I got a real job as managing editor of Explore Big Sky newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine in Big Sky, Montana. It was both scary and exciting—like all the best adventures.
Related: 9 to 5 Ruins Lives
Watch Emily in the Cirque of the Unclimbables:
Luckily, my commute went through Gallatin Canyon, an area of gneiss towers and fins south of Bozeman. I spent many hours during the four years I worked there soloing easy routes in the canyon after work, and hanging on a rope trundling and scrubbing new routes. It was a good way to burn off steam. Now I’m working for an amazing nonprofit in Bozeman, Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. We connect outdoor athletes with ways to gather data for science projects, and provide that information to conservation managers. We have a couple of climber projects—one collecting pika data in the alpine, and another gathering water samples from rivers, lakes and oceans to study microplastics pollution. When I hang out with friends who climb full-time, I definitely question my choice to work a real job. But I’m stoked to be at ASC now, helping protect the places I love, so I know I’m doing the right thing.
How do you feel about sponsorship? Do you have any sponsors?
Sponsorship has never really felt like a fit for me individually, although I’ve really enjoyed working in the outdoor industry as an athlete, a writer and editor, a ski patroller, and now through ASC.
What about climbing do you love most?
I love moving all day in the mountains with friends.
To learn more about Emily and her adventures, you can read her blog here.