All of my life decisions are based on climbing, traveling, and being free.
We all love climbing rocks, but every once in a while you meet someone who is seriously obsessed with climbing not only as a sport, but as a way of life. Alix Morris is one of those people. Her insatiable curiosity and love for climbing has led her on some pretty amazing adventures. Read on to hear her story about the early days of her climbing career, living in Yosemite Valley, being a member of YOSAR:
How did you get into climbing? Tell us about the early days of your climbing career.
My good friend took me to the climbing gym in college when I was still living at home in Orange County. I had no idea rock climbing even existed, really. I grew up in the cookie-cutter suburbs of LA and spent most of my youth on a soccer field. I learned a lot about hard work, dedication, and discipline while playing on an elite soccer team, and I think that carried over to climbing when I decided to fully embrace it.
It was a fun hobby for a year when I was in school there. I bouldered in the gym, dabbled in sport climbing, and sometimes went outside to Joshua Tree and the Riverside Rock Quarry.
But when I really started climbing, taking it seriously and making it a lifestyle was when I moved to Berkeley the fall of 2011. I knew I wanted to get into trad climbing because that is where you go on epic adventures or so I read in Steph Davis’, High Infatuation. Her book really shifted my perspective on lifestyles and pursuing passions.
It was hard to find someone to show me the ropes, but I did go to Tuolumne for a weekend in the fall of 2011. My friend Benny, another lady, and I climbed West Crack on Daff Dome and it took the entire day. We had walkie talkies, one of them fell. I followed the whole thing. People passed us, and we got stuck in a hail storm. I was freezing. I told myself I would never do such a thing again.
The next year I changed all of my schooling around to maximize climbing with my new partner in crime, took my first summer road trip, and spent three weeks in the Valley climbing! It was humbling, but I was psyched and never looked back. Now all of my life decisions are based on climbing, traveling, and being free. It’s awesome.
You’ve made climbing into a lifestyle, which is never easy. How have you learned to balance your love of climbing with making money?
I am still figuring that one out. Honestly, my life is a mess but it’s great. I am pretty much on the ragged edge with my finances all the time. I try to work as little as possible so I can climb all the time. It really helps to live in a place like Yosemite where you can subsist off nothing and climb as much as you want. It’s a dream, really.
I am also not afraid to be dead broke. Money comes when I really need it, and I am good at making it work with next to nothing. In fact, I will probably come back from Spain with no money, but that’s okay. The journey is what it’s about, and one day, I will get over the stress of not having money and find a more sustainable ‘career,’ but that time is not now.
I have been out of school for two years now and in that time, I worked at a coffee shop in Bishop, taught English in Taiwan, and now I am on YOSAR. I live in my car and try to stay away from buying all of that unnecessary stuff people fancy.
You spent this past season working for YOSAR. Has this always been something you’ve wanted to do? Walk us through a typical day in the life of a YOSAR team member.
Oh my, yes it has! Yosemite National Park is my favorite place in the world. 2012 was my first season in the Valley and within a year, I knew that I wanted to be on YOSAR. I mean, come on, you get to live in Camp Four in YOSEMITE and climb all the time!! It’s the dream.
The history behind the SAR site, the legends who’ve been on the team, and big wall rescue were all compelling reasons to join the team. I also want to be a part of that tradition and make my mark on Yosemite climbing.
I met Scott Deputy, a long time SAR siter, by the slacklines in the spring of 2013, and his story inspired me to get my big walls skills up to par. Last year, I felt like I finally had a chance to make it happen and it just worked out. This was my first year on the team and it has been a really incredible experience. I feel lucky to live with some rad individuals who are all unique and talented and just plain fun! And I also like all of the rangers I have worked with, too. It’s really cool to learn more about the inner-workings of the park and see the behind the scenes stuff. It adds more value to my experience because I get to explore everything.
Hmm … a typical day. It seemed like a mellow year based on all the stories I have heard. Life is pretty simple. I am pretty diligent about planning for climbs during my days off and I coincide being “on-call” or working with rest days. Mornings are mellow—lots of coffee, big communal breakfast scrambles, and “vortexing” or sitting around and talking for hours.
Other members got pretty big into whittling and I decided to join the bandwagon and made my first spoon at the end of the season! I spent a lot of time reading during the day at the Ahwanee Hotel for cookies and tea. Lots of stretching and antagonistic stuff. Calls often go off in the afternoon so if there is one, we respond to that. And we also had many night calls this year. Communal dinners happen most days and then I go to bed pretty early and read old climbing magazines to get psyched. It’s super simple, I love it.
What if you woke up tomorrow and for some reason weren’t able to ever climb again? Do you have a back-up plan or other interests? What would you do without climbing?
Well, I think it would take a while to let go of climbing, but I would still spend a great deal of time outside and in high places. I don’t have a back-up plan, but I would probably pursue yoga more, buddhism, and still travel the world. Maybe I would get into backcountry skiing, surfing, and ultra-running in the mountains. I want to build a house and live off the grid someday so I could just pursue that dream a little earlier. I do hope I will get to climb for the rest of my life though! I have a one-track mind so everything else is on the back burner right now.
What is the best climbing-related advice you’ve ever received?
Arnold Illner’s book [The Rock Warrior’s Way] was extremely helpful for my fear of falling (still working on it). Assess the risk, decide whether it’s safe and/or worth it, make a decisions, and commit.
If you could give one piece of advice to a beginner climber, what would it be?
Stay PSYCHED and keep it fun. That’s pretty cliche, but it’s easy to wrap your ego up in climbing when you become a better climber.
Tell us about one of the best days you’ve ever had climbing.
That is hard! There have been many this year alone. This past summer, my favorite climbing partner, Jim, and I, and two other friends of ours party-walled Tradewinds on the Incredible Hulk. The location is spectacular. You are above the tree line in the mountains with a beautiful view of the Sierra.
I was pretty nervous to try this route because it was at my limit and there was a notorious dyno (I had never dyno’d before). We ended up having a casual day climbing beautiful corners and face on perfect granite with great friends. I lead this beautiful stem and layback corner to a heartbreaking slab horizontal slab dyno at the end. I was sure I would fall, but I ended up sticking the dyno and onsighted the route!
Tell us about one of the worst days you’ve ever had climbing.
Last year, I climbed The Nose in a day for the first time. It was a dream I had since I started climbing in Yosemite. I tried really hard to find someone to climb it with me who had not done it before, but alas, I didn’t.
My boyfriend at the time, Jim, and I climbed it together. We had climbed a lot prior to this and usually had a good time, but the stress of speed climbing, and being in a relationship, made me feel really vulnerable. The first half of the climb went great, but when I hit the great roof, my feet started to hurt … psyche was low, and I was gassed. I got scared, cried, and when we topped out, we agreed we would never climb a wall together.
We also had plans to go to Patagonia, and he told me he didn’t want to go with me. We climbed it in 15 hours, but it seemed far from the dreamy topout I had envisioned. A lot has changed since that experience, and we did continue to climb big walls together and they were even fun!
What has been one of the most proud moments in your climbing career?
This fall, I climbed the Rostrum and Astroman free in a day. They are both my favorite routes and just spectacular crack climbing. They are so perfect it is almost too good to be true. Jim and I climbed it together, leading in halves. I led the second half of Astroman and the first half of the Rostrum.
Our friends party-walled it behind us, and we shared the belays with them most of the day. It was a great time, but a test of endurance. When I led the final .11c crux, I was totally wasted, scared, and tired, but managed to hang on a little bit longer. It was a challenge!
Tell us about a moment that you’re not so proud of in your climbing career.
One of the first times I climbed outside, I took a gym climber to the Riverside Rock Quarry. I was leading a .10b sport climb when I dislodged a microwave-sized block. I was so scared that I froze and said nothing. My belayer who had not climbed outside much looked up just in time for him to move, and the rock brushed his shoulder. I nearly killed him.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
Passion is key. Live it up.
Thank you Alix for sharing your story and stoke for climbing! We hope you’re having fun in Spain and we wish you the best of luck in 2016!
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