With an unbridled passion for climbing’s history and its legends, conservation of natural places, art, his friends and family, personal growth, and developing new lines—Eric Bissell is exactly the type of climber that’s going to save our sport’s corporate, ego-driven soul.
Eric spent his late childhood and teen years top roping the Swan Slabs in Yosemite and climbing 5.8 in Joshua tree with his dad and brother. As he got older, he decided to focus on his other passion; art, and attended art school for college. However, climbing was still very much in his life, as he was working for the National Park Service in Yosemite during his summer vacations. After he graduated, he spent a few years in New York working as an artist, but eventually came back to California to take the road trip that he had always dreamed about.
It was on that road trip that Eric realized just how much he loved climbing—not just for its physicality, but for its ability to teach us about ourselves. He moved into his truck and headed to Yosemite alone.
Just a few years later, Eric had freed El Capitan in a 3-day ground-up ascent of Freerider (5.13), onsighted The Hulk’s Venturi Effect (5.12+), and put up a first ascent of a six-pitch 5.11+ he called Boss Man in the Sierras outside of Tuolumne. Eric had also established new boulder problems on the Valley floor including the still unrepeated slab, The Ballerina (V11-ish).
Watch Eric’s first ascent of The Ballerina (V11) in Yosemite, CA:
To support his lifestyle, Eric went back to working as a ranger in Yosemite, which he still does six months out of the year. While working for the Parks Service, he is not allowed to receive sponsorship money—but he actually sees this as a blessing. Eric explained that sponsorship can put a lot of pressure on climber to perform and climb harder grades, which is something that he feels really takes away from the experience. He shared that he feels lucky that he doesn’t have to consider sponsorship when deciding what to climb next. This allows him to truly climb for himself without any external expectations.
Instead of worrying about selling himself or satisfying a sponsor, Eric seeks projects that will allow him to be creative and grow as a climber. Recently he has achieved that in the form of first ascents. Just a few months ago he established a big wall route in Venezuela, and in March he is heading to New Mexico to develop new boulders.
While he admittedly questions his lifestyle for being self-indulgent, Eric finds that working for the Parks Service allows him give back to the climbing community and helps remedy any feelings of selfishness. Climbing has helped him realize how important it is to feel happy, because then you want others to be happy too.
Currently, Eric Bissell resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and will head back to work Yosemite in May. To learn more about Eric’s climbing and art visit his website. We thank Eric for sharing his refreshing view on our sport and wish him the best of luck in 2015!