In this week’s Climber Spotlight, we hear from Mark Heal —Bay Area boulderer, coach, and all around good guy. Mark’s story highlights the importance of mentors, collaborating with friends in order to send, and remembering that all climbers progress at their own pace. Read on to hear his words:
Name: Mark Heal
Years climbing: 10
Hometown: It’s in England …
Currently: Living in San Francisco, tiny studio.
Type of climber: Boulderer, but I’ve top roped a few big walls.
How did you get into climbing? Tell us about the early days of your climbing career.
I first climbed in August 2005 at Squaw Valley. They let us belay with no lessons, which is weird looking back on it. Subsequently, I signed up for an elective climbing class at school and from there it spiraled. Once a week turned into twice, and eventually I was climbing everyday.
Soon I joined the “Teen Team” at Class 5 in Marin. I trained hard after school and spent the weekends learning my way around the Sierra. Class 5 was a small gym in Marin but had a great community of old stone masters, big building climbers, and Spanish badasses, so it was great.
Who helped form you into the climber you are today? Tell us about your role models and mentors.
Ben Snead was the Teen Team coach. He is 10 years older than me and Ben taught me technique, crag etiquette, and all the other in-betweens. We still enjoy climbing the same problems and hang all the time.
Simon Benkert was that strong kid in the gym—that one you see training everyday and only eating egg whites. Simon and I are the same age and had mutual friends outside of climbing. He showed me that with training and lots of hard work, improving was in my hands.
Ethan Pringle was probably my biggest influence—he was there when I did my first 6, 7, 9, 10 and 12. Ethan kindly took that over-psyched kid to Bishop, Yosemite, and even my first summer in Squamish (I think he regretted that one). Ethan executes when it’s time, no BS, no mistakes … He showed me the mental focus that you need for highballs and the pieces you need to make a send happen. From seeing Ethan climb some of the hardest climbs he showed me that there is no limit to our potential.
Related: How to Climb Highballs
What is one of the proudest moments in your climbing career?
The best part of climbing has been traveling with friends, and the fun times we’ve had. I’m lucky enough to be part of the fantastic climbing community in San Francisco and there is no shortage of psyched people to climb with. I love the pressure that comes with traveling and climbing at a new crag—you’ve travelled miles, spent hours training and obsessed over problems, now you get to try them … I LOVE that pressure.
I’ve had some great sends on trips like that such as El Corazon, a V13 in Rocklands this summer. However, the most satisfying ones are the ones you’ve seen growing up, and for me that’s been The Dominator (V12) in Yosemite and the Mandala Sit (V13/14) in Bishop.
Watch Mark’s ascent of the Mandala Sit in the Buttermilks of Bishop, CA:
Tell us about a not-so-proud moment in your climbing career.
At the end of 2009, I spent New Years in Joshua Tree. I backed off of White Rastafarian (V3), then proceeded to flail on a V1 by Stem Gem (V4) … while Ethan lapped it in his sneakers. Later I found a guy from Class 5 had put up White Rastafarian with a brush in his back pocket, cleaning the holds as he climbed.
At that point I was fresh off a successful trip to Hueco and feeling strong, but this experience showed me how talented the earlier generations were and created a level of respect I still have.
If for some reason you woke up tomorrow and weren’t able to climb ever again, what would you do? Is there some other activity or aspect of life that feeds you in the same way that climbing does?
I currently run a training program called Reach Climbing and coach 20 people in San Francisco. This would be my first choice since I’d still get to teach others and share my passion for climbing. It’s amazing to see the hard work and progress all my clients have made.
I started surfing nearly 3 years ago and keep finding myself going more and more. I always loved the water and through surfing I’ve developed a connection with another aspect of nature. The ocean is powerful, rugged, and always in charge just like the mountains.
Additionally, I’d love to get better free-diving. Although, someone should have told me the best waves are in the winter, right when I want to be climbing. Now I come back from the mountains on Sunday night hoping the waves are firing Monday morning! It’s non-stop here.
What do you think are the most important skills for climbers to adopt if they want to be successful?
Communication is one of the most important tools for improving. Climbing should always be collaborative effort, both inside and outside. I’m psyched when my friends send because I was there helping and sharing in their success.
Related: On Being a Good Climbing Partner
Find a climber in the gym or someone who you like the way they climb and study them. What beta did they use and what made that work well? When I started climbing my friend Steve lent me Dosage 1, 2, and 3 and I watched them all in a row. I’ve learned a lot from watching others climb.
If you could give one piece of advice to a beginner, what would it be?
When I started climbing, everything became a comparison: How long had they been climbing? What grade did they get to? How much they climb? How much did I climb? Now I see that we are all find our own way, we each progress at different speeds, but the one thing we all share is that we’re having fun and finding fulfillment. Enjoy every day you get to spend climbing and try hard.
What are you up to in 2016? Any big trips, goals, or projects?
I’m excited for 2016! My first goal is to become a better coach, and through my hard work I hope to see improvement in my clients and grow my business.
I’ll be weekend warrioring for a while with the possibility of a trip to Utah/New Mexico in the spring. Then I’ll be spending half of May and June in Europe, then to Rocklands in July. After that, back to coaching and another fall in the Sierra. I’d love to make it to Washington to climb on The King Slayer (V13), and maybe find a few unicorn days in Squamish. Ooh and a surf trip to Mexico or further south.
But first, The Swarm (V13/14).
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I wanted to thank everyone I’ve had the opportunity to climb with: you all have taught me something about myself and my relationship with climbing.
Additionally I wanted to thank ORGANIC Climbing for supporting me with the best crash pads and climbing products in the game, and Five Ten for shoes.
We thank Mark for his positivity, inspiration, and honesty and wish you the best of luck in 2016—you’re gonna crush The Swarm! Mark is sponsored by ORGANIC Climbing and Five Ten.