In this week’s Climber Spotlight, we hear from Chris Sinatra, a climber from California who has been at it for over eighteen years. His down-to-earth attitude, humble demeanor, and respect for the natural world is refreshing and inspiring. Get to know him:
How did climbing enter into your life? Tell us about the early days of your climbing career.
I was 8 and living in Northern California when climbing entered my life. The local climbing gym was hosting a summer camp and after the first day I was hooked. I started going regularly and even had my birthday party there.
When my family moved up to Bend, Oregon and I discovered there was a gym in town, I left my burgeoning career in competitive gymnastics and joined their youth team, going on to compete over the next 10 years at the regional, national, and international level. At the time it was pretty weird to be a “climber,” especially in school. It’s interesting to see that culture shift as climbing becomes more mainstream.
What about climbing do you love most? What keeps your psyched and inspired?
One of the things that makes climbing so special is the community. People are so passionate and supportive. Even when you’re a total stranger, all they want is to see you succeed and help that process in anyway they can.
The connections formed after a few days out at the crag can last a lifetime. By picking up little bits and pieces of each person’s story, I’ve been inspired to follow my own dreams and venture into the unknown. That sense of adventure and the inward quest for self-awareness are other aspects of climbing that keep me engaged and always wanting more.
For me the two go hand in hand, the excitement of the unknown and the need to quiet your mind and accurately assess situations. The constant pursuit of understanding underlies the physical act of climbing, whether it’s through an understanding movement, risk, rope systems, or our place within nature and society as a whole.
What is one of your proudest climbing accomplishments?
I’m proud that I’m still continuing to grow as a climber. There’s always more to learn, and after 18 years there are still plenty of things I haven’t been able to try, let alone master.
The greatest accomplishments are the ones with lasting impact and I’d have to say that branching out into trad and big wall climbing has been a huge catalyst for growth. It’s been a humbling transition but it’s opened up so many new possibilities that weren’t on the table as a boulderer or sport climber.
Chris climbing Crown of Aragorn (V13) in Hueco Tanks, Texas:
What is one of your not-so-proud moments in climbing?
The days where I lose sight of how privileged I am to be climbing in the first place make me feel not-so-proud. Some days it feels like work, with internal and external pressures creeping in and stopping me from letting myself enjoy the experience.
It’s important to try not to lose the forest for the trees. I think it’s dismissive to say climbing is just fun and you shouldn’t take it too seriously, but there is a balance that has to exist if it’s going to be a permanent fixture in a person’s life.
For me, that pendulum swings both ways but at the end of the day it’s important to acknowledge and be thankful for the fact that it’s there in the first place. Climbing is still something that brings great meaning into my life, and even on the worst days it feels petty and ungrateful to lose sight of that.
What’s next for you? Any big goals/projects?
I have my first AMGA Rock Guide course coming up at the beginning of November. I was incredibly honored to receive the Young Aspiring Guide Scholarship, which helped cover tuition and make the course possible.
As the season marches on and the temperature starts dropping, I’m planning on working my way though more of the Yosemite classics and maybe getting back to work on freeing El Cap. I’ve also wanted to become more comfortable in the alpine so if there’s any snow this season I’ll be trying to learn some ski-mountaineering skills and get up some mountains.
Long term, I’d love to return to Nepal and climb Ama Dablam. It’s way out of my sphere of experience, but I was absolutely captivated by the mountain while hiking out to Everest Base Camp. Alpine climbing has always held an allure to me, I’ve always felt most at peace in the mountains. Hiking past Ama Dablam and looking up at its twin summits was about as compelling as anything I’ve ever laid my eyes on.
If you could give one piece of advice to a beginner climber, what would it be?
Get out of your comfort zone. Take the time to do things the best way possible, not just the fastest way.
It’s so easy to get strong these days that many beginners forget that footwork and technique are the foundation for long-term success. Go out and climb slab. Be open to being humbled. If you’re awful on slopers seek out problems with sloper cruxes.
Success is a wonderful affirmation of all the hard work we put in to climb something, but in the end if we’re not learning from the experience it’s just another rock. The failures are where the learning happens.
If you could give one piece of advice to a V15/5.15 crusher, what would it be?
Don’t forget what it’s like to be new to climbing. Many of us have been doing this for so long that it’s easy to overlook the wonder and awe that many newer climbers experience. Try to keep that sense of novelty and adventure alive.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
As climbing becomes more and more popular the strain on outdoor areas has become a huge issue. Please be mindful about limiting your impact and leaving no trace. This means more than just picking up after yourself, but also helping out those who may be less informed than you are. We’re all stewards for these precious resources and if we all do what we can to preserve them we’ll be able to maintain open access for generations to come.
We send a huge thank you to Chris for sharing his story. We wish him the best of luck with his AMGA certification, freeing El Cap, and everything else!