This week we chat with Paige Claassen: a sport climbing wizard and master of thin, technical climbs, with a +5 ape index to boot (yes, we’re jealous too).
With proud FFA’s on climbs like Grand Ole Opry (5.14b/c) at the Monastery, Colorado, Motley Crux (5.14a) in Deep Creek, Washington, and Just Do It (5.14c) in Smith Rock , Oregon—Paige has certainly made her mark as a talented and inspiring climber. But her relationship with climbing doesn’t stop at hard ascents—she also designed Marmot’s Lead Now; a global tour working with local non-profits to elevate women’s climbing standards around the world. Get to know Paige:
When did you start climbing? How were you introduced to climbing?
My family moved to Estes Park, Colorado when I was 9. I was really bad at everything I tried—swimming, soccer, saxophone. My parents saw an ad in the local newspaper for an after school climbing program. They took me to the gym and it clicked right away. I competed and trained in the gym for the first 8 years before transitioning to outdoor climbing in my later teenage years.
What is your favorite type of climbing and why?
I love sport climbing because it allows you to push yourself on a very pure, physical level. When you’re pushing yourself to your physical max, you’re also pushing your mental limits, and ultimately that’s what really hooks me. I love the ups and downs of projecting a really difficult route—excitement, progress, back progress, frustration, anticipation, acceptance, and then hopefully success!
This past year, I’ve begun to trad climb a bit more. It’s exciting to apply 15 years of sport experience to traditional routes. I’ll feel confident about the climbing, but it takes me forever to find the right gear. I’ve really enjoyed the new challenge though—it’s fun to be a beginner again. It’s humbling, but I also get excited over really small achievements. I think that’s something we loose sight of when we’ve climbed for a long time.
Watch an interview with Paige, and her ascent of To Bolt of Not to Be (5.14a):
Tell us about one of your proudest moment in your climbing career.
Finishing Art Attack, a 5.14b slab in Italy was a big moment for me. I had worked on this slab for a month and it was always wet. The feet were so so tiny, and by the end of the month I still hadn’t even climbed up to the crux. On the second to last day I miraculously made it to the top. I had mentally given up, but kept trying so that I wouldn’t have any excuses at the end of the trip.
That process taught me the importance of persistence, but also that things don’t have to line up perfectly for a send. We’re always searching for the perfect conditions, but that rarely lines up with the moment we’re feeling physically and mentally ready. I think it’s important to learn to just go for it and try as hard as you can, regardless of how you feel or what’s going on around you. We often surprise ourselves!
Tell us about one of your not-so-proud moments in your climbing career.
Most of my not so proud moments involve bouldering. I enjoy bouldering, but I’m almost always disappointed in my performance. Maybe my expectations are too high, and I expect myself to be stronger than I actually am. But I’m kind of a pansy when it comes to top outs. I’ll often get through the difficult part of a boulder and then wimp off when I get too high off the ground. It happened a bunch in Squamish last fall, on boulders I should have been warming up on. And last weekend in Yosemite, I bailed off the top after climbing through the difficult face section. Fortunately my boyfriend is a great spotter, so if he’s around I’m a bit more brave.
Do you have any doubts about the lifestyle you lead? Do you feel any pressure to be “normal” and get a 9-5 job?
Of course. I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself. I enjoyed school and I was a good student. Sometimes I feel as though I’m not using all of my brain power. But the opportunities available to athletes are increasing as the sport grows. It’s a cool challenge, to figure out how to differentiate yourself and build your own brand. At the end of the day, I know that I get to play for “work,” and there’s no way I would trade that. If I’m creative and apply myself correctly, I can find an intellectual challenge right where I am.
Related: 9 to 5 Ruins Lives
If you could give one piece of advice to a beginner climber, what would it be?
I could say something inspiring and motivational, but honestly I think that beginner climbers could teach pros a thing or two about motivation. What I really want to say is, use your feet!! Beginners often try to muscle through moves, instead of using their feet efficiently. If you watch your feet as you carefully place them, you’ll notice a huge change in your climbing. Also, climbing is 90% mental and 10% physical. So, use your feet and your mind.
If you could give one piece of advice to a V15/5.15 climber, what would it be?
I think elite climbers could take a tip from the beginners and remember that climbing is fun! It’s easy to get bogged down in the intricacies of our projects, which can really take the fun out of the process. When you take a step back, you realize how cool it is to be outside every day, doing what you love. Some days are more successful than others, but redefining success helps keep climbing fun, which ultimately helps us send.
Can you give us the names of a few routes or boulder problems that are on your “life list”?
Hmm, that’s actually hard. I don’t normally decide I want to work on a route until I arrive at an area and see what catches my attention. I have unfinished projects throughout the country that are definitely part of the life list, like The Bleeding in Mill Creek, Utah. I’ve always wanted to try Groove Train (5.14b) in the Grampians, Australia. That’s on the life list for sure!
Watch this beautiful Louder Than Eleven film of Paige climbing in South Africa:
Anything else we should know about you?
One of my favorite things about climbing is that you can learn from someone of any level. As long as you choose a crag with a variety of grades, and you can both belay, you can really climb with someone of any level. That’s really unique to climbing. Thanks to The North Face, La Sportiva, Smith Optics, C.A.M.P., and Maxim Ropes for their support!
Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom with us, Paige! We’re psyched to see you crush your projects and continue to inspire passion for the sport!