In this week’s Climber Spotlight, we hear from the Director of Routesetting for Touchstone Climbing and Fitness, Jeremy Ho. Jeremy is a talented climber, well-respected route setter, and lover of his family. Read on to hear his story about his transition from a dirtbag climber to a father and husband:
How did you get started climbing? Tell us about the early days of your climbing career.
I started climbing about 9 years ago at Diablo Rock Gym in Concord, CA. It was actually a good friend’s dad and sister that convinced us to go with them one day when we were bored and sitting around his house. I wish I had something cooler than the typical
I went climbing one day and I was hooked
story but I really don’t. I was always active and athletic growing up, and climbing just clicked with me. I grew up skateboarding from a young age and always preferred the more individual sports over the team sports; so I guess it made sense for me to fall in love with climbing. Plus, I was always physically strong.
After that first fateful day of climbing, I drove straight to REI and bought shoes, a harness, a chalk bag, a rope, and like 6 draws. I barely knew how to tie a figure 8 and I had no idea how to clip draws but I was committed. Shortly after, I moved to Southern California to chase a lady and pretty much didn’t touch any of that climbing gear for about a year.
By the time I moved home to the Bay Area, that same friend who I started climbing with got a job working at the front desk of Berkeley Ironworks. I continued working in graphic design while getting back into climbing, and eventually my friend got me a belay staff job on the weekends for a low rate of pay, and more importantly a free membership. I did that for about 6 months before a front desk job opened up and I jumped at the opportunity. After a few months of working a graphic design job by day and part-time front desk by night, everything lined up to let me quit my graphic design job and dive head first into the climbing dirtbag lifestyle. So I did. That was the beginning of the end.
You’re now the Director of Routesetting for Touchstone Climbing and Fitness. Has it been hard to balance a demanding, exhausting, full-time job with climbing and a family? What are the best parts about route setting? What are the worst?
I’ll be 100% honest: climbing has taken a major backseat in the past 2 years. I stepped into my role as the (at the time) Head Routesetter about 6-7 months before my daughter was born and since then have become the Director of Routesetting of 9, soon to be 11 gyms across most of the state of California.
With the managerial responsibilities that have been added to my plate and the birth of my daughter, I have had very little time to dedicate to climbing and training. I haven’t seen gains in my climbing for some time now. With that being said, I wouldn’t trade any amount of climbing and training for the joy of being a father. It’s really worth it to me.
Being a full-time routesetter (which I am not these days due to the amount of desk work that is required by my job) is both a blessing and a curse. We are constantly on the brink of injury and never at 100%, even on the best days. BUT—we get to do something we love and we get paid to climb a little. So, I guess the best thing about setting is doing what you love and the flexibility that comes with the job. The worst thing about it is how exhausting it can be.
How have you managed to stay strong and climbing well with such a small amount of time to dedicate to climbing and training?
I haven’t! As I said before, between my job and my family climbing has taken a bit of a backseat. I’m lucky that on the days I do set, I get to climb and my wife is incredibly awesome and lets/encourages me to get down to the gym to climb when I can.
This is the trade off for me. I don’t get to climb all the time like I did when I was just some dirtbag setter, but it allows me to provide for a family in a way that doesn’t make me want to throw myself off a bridge (this is why I quit my graphic design job) and gives me time to spend with them.
Related: Why 9 to 5 Ruins Lives
How has having a family changed your identity as a climber?
Well, I would say the biggest change has been that my winter months aren’t spent taking off as much time as possible from work to be in the mountains or desert. I haven’t taken a climbing trip for more than 3 days in the past 2 years. Mostly that is because of my wife’s schedule and not so much mine. We have always gone climbing together when possible over the years and while I have had the opportunity to go climbing in the last year, I passed to stay home with her and our little girl. Priorities or something I guess.
Tell us about one of the proudest moments of your climbing career.
I think the obvious is topping out Evilution Direct (V11) a couple of years ago. I had always wanted to sit on top of that boulder ever since I first saw it. Doing it ground up made it extra special for me.
Jeremy send of the badass Buttermilk’s highball problem, Evilution Direct (V11):
I will say that I’m probably more proud of my accomplishments as a setter in the past couple of years though. Getting the opportunity to set for multiple USAC National Championships and numerous lower level USAC Championships with some of the best setters in the country has been amazing.
Tell us about a not-so-proud moment in your climbing career.
Jeez. I’m sure most climbers have had low points in climbing and I’m sure a lot of people have come close to, if not entirely quitting climbing. For me, the lowest point had to be a few years back when I had to have surgery to remove a nerve impingement. I got pretty out of shape pretty quickly and toyed with the idea of returning to graphic design and quitting climbing. Luckily that thought was short lived.
If you could give one piece of advice to a beginner climber, what would it be?
Be patient and don’t give up. Climbing is hard and only gets harder as you move through the grades. Don’t focus on that stuff though. Make sure you are having fun and enjoying it. The harder stuff will always be there for you to try later.
If you could give one piece of advice to a v15/5.15 crusher, what would it be?
Be patient and don’t give up! Climbing is hard but you’re one of the best at it. Now stop whining and go climb.
What’s the best advice on climbing you’ve ever received?
Tim Doyle barked at me once while I was climbing. That was hands down the best piece of advice anyone has ever given me. I guess it wasn’t really as much advice as it was encouragement, but it really made me dig deep and try hard. Now every once in a while I will bark at good friends. Everyone I have done it too either laughs themselves off the climb or sends. Both are good times.
Related: On Being a Good Climbing Partner
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I think routesetters have gotten a bad rap with the general (climbing) public. We’re typically nicer than we seem and probably poorer. Please do us a favor: feed us and love us. We are like the poor little puppy at the pound that isn’t quite cute enough to find a home, but if given the chance we will truly love you and treat you well. We just need love, food, and the occasional pat on the head.
A huge thank you to Jeremy for sharing his honest words, inspiring advice, and setting some of California’s highest quality routes and boulder problems!