Interview: Catching Up With Jonathan Siegrist

jonathan_seigrist_rumney

After catching wind of Jonathan Siegrist’s hard sends at Rumney, New Hampshire, Climberism caught up with “J-Star” for an interview to get the full scoop on Jonathan’s bite-size climbing and a spoonful of his breakfast cereal preferences…

With all the rock in the West, often times New England is overlooked as a climbing destination for professional climbers. So…what brings J-Star to the Northeast?

I’ve always been interested in the area, without question, but what solidified it for me was this silly little blog post I did earlier in the year, asking twenty of my professional climbing friends about the top 5.14s in the country. I tried to get a variety of people who lived in different zones. And I was shocked with how many people responded with answers in the Northeast. But in the back of my head I always knew that Rumney, as an area of hard sport climbing, was a crag I needed to visit.

Before we talk about New Hampshire, where you are compiling an impressive tic list of hard 5.13s and 5.14s, how was Massachusetts? What was your favorite crag there? Did you make it out to Farley Ledges in Western Mass?

I haven’t been out there, but there is a very good likelihood that I will because Hampshire College is around Hadley right out by Farley and they’ve asked me to do a slideshow presentation there either the 6th or 7th of November. I hope to check out Farley. Marshfield, the Gunks, and Farley are the next three destinations on my list once I finish this thing at Rumney…

This thing?

Jaws II!

Tell me more about your efforts on Jaws II (5.15a). Any progress on the only 5.15 in Rumney?

Jaws is a challenging route for me and a real departure from what I find myself doing in that it’s short and bouldery. But I’m making progress on it; I worked it through to the top twice. There’s a really, really big move, not quite a dyno, but a hard move for me given how short I am. I’m a little concerned about making it through that upper move after the hard boulder moves below. I’ve been trying to think of long, “reachy” thoughts [laughing].

In your 2013 survey of a handful of professional climbers, China Beach (5.14b) ranked among America’s top 5 best 5.14 rock climbs. (http://www.jstarinorbit.com/2013/12/americas-best-514.html) Have you attempted the route yet? If so, what makes this climb so memorable?

Originally I was kind of saving it for a flash but, unbeknownst to me, it has the same finish as Jaws. I was trying Jaws the last week or so, and I saw when I was on the top that I was climbing China Beach now. Then I realized, “oh shit I just ruined my flash.”

What was the highlight of China Beach’s neighbor, Livin’ Astro (5.14c) which you sent last week in only two tries?

The route is fantastic! Aesthetically it has to be one of the most alluring routes of its grade in the country. It’s a kick-ass route. I was really psyched to do it. I wasn’t expecting to do it as fast as I did.

This may just be my Northeast pride talking, but any thoughts on Rumney local Neil Mushaweh matching your ascent of Livin’ Astro the day after?

It was really cool to see Neil do it. He’s been battling it for a while and he’s a really cool guy. And he was really helpful with beta in general. It was cool because I was hanging on Jaws when he did the route. It was cool to be hanging on a rope five or six feet away from him. I’d seen his first try, and he failed his first try. I could see he had a little bit of that self doubt that we all go through, so it was cool to watch him go through that process and send it from only a few feet away.

It seems as though the magnitude of 5.14 and 5.15 climbers has increased dramatically in recent years. Chris Sharma’s send of Biographie/Realization (5.15a) in 2001, a route which you sent this past summer, shattered previous perceptions of sport climbing possibilities. Now, several climbers have redpointed 5.15, and crushing 5.13 or pushing 5.14 is almost commonplace. Being among the 5.15 club pushing the limits, what is your prediction of sport climbing’s future, and where do you set the bar of what’s possible?

You know, in a sense you nailed it. The number of climbers able to do 9a is certainly growing. But on the same token 9a+ has only been done in recent years by ten or eleven different athletes out of millions of climbers in the sport. There are a few individuals outperforming everyone: Alex Megos, Adam [Ondra] and Chris [Sharma], and there are certainly other climbers capable of doing that. But I think climbers will progress at a slower pace. Climbers used to be limited to nearby outdoor climbing areas, but now climbers are climbing really well in the gym and I think in general the direction of youth will be toward competition and the gym, which takes place well away from rock. But I do think there will be a certain percentage of kids who will get out and climb really well. As far as the future of sport climbing, just knowing how exceptionally good Adam Ondra is and how terribly difficult 5.15c is for him (these are projects he has invested years of his life into, so much time and energy), I still think 5.15d and 5.16a are years if not decades off. And you look at Chris Sharma who has been climbing 5.15 for thirteen years and it’s still super hard for him. Its going to take something like an Alex Megos who is genetically well endowed and training super hard in a serious fashion since he was super young. It will be interesting to see what he is capable of! So I guess what I’m saying in my rambling thoughts is that progress has happened steadily and slowly and I think it will probably continue that way.

On your website and in this interview you have had nothing but flattering things to say about the Northeast, and New Hampshire especially. In one word or one sentence, what makes Rumney “one of America’s raddest destinations”? (www.jstarinorbit.com)

I would just say its something about the way that there’s such a high density of these bite size sport climbs. The climbing tends to be very playful, and things aren’t really that involved. These little, bit-size powerful climbs really change the dynamic of how you experience the area. Its like a bouldering session. And there’s always something for everyone! That those differences in difficulties exist so close to one another is very unique. I’m sure there’s a sentence or word in there [laughing].

So does this mean you are siding with Climberism in the New-Red-Rumney debate for the top sport climbing crag of the East?

There’s a New-Red-Rumney debate?

Well, there’s a New-Red debate, but we at Climberism would like to think Rumney is in the mix as well…

Those two areas are so good! That’s a tough one. I couldn’t say that Rumney is better than either of those areas. But I’m not afraid to say this: this has been my first time in the Northeast and I generally had something of an elitist Coloradan attitude towards the East Coast, but I’ve been really psyched. Not only is there a cool community of people, but I really like Boston. The indoor climbing resources are amazing. And Rumney is exceptional! I guess what I’m trying to get at is I’m totally on board with the Northeast climbing thing. And without question I will be coming back next fall. I doubted how cool this part of the country would be for a climber, but Boston and Rumney are definitely areas I would love to return to. The landscape is beautiful; the fall is amazing. Weather is not always super desirable, but it makes a big difference when you can retreat to Burlington or Boston and have a gym in an awesome city, which is exactly what I’ve been doing: just coming to Boston on these lousy weather days and putting up some boulders with my friends.

Where to now?

Bit of a complicated answer since end of November I’m going to Asia for a vacation of sorts unrelated to climbing. I’m going to the Philippines to do some surfing! I feel very lucky I get to do that kind of thing. I have found I’m not always good at resting, but the best way for me to take a few (or ten) days off is to go somewhere without my climbing shoes. Otherwise somebody will inevitably call with the next new thing and I will think, “oh, I don’t have to rest.” My plan was to go back to West Virginia to climb at the New, but as long as I can make it happen with the weather I will stay in New England for another few weeks. After Asia, I’m just training all winter for a late winter/early spring trip to Europe for a few months.

Probably a stupid closing question but…what’s your favorite breakfast cereal?

[Laughing] That’s a great question! Without a doubt, no competition at all, it’s Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Another good one, probably runner up, is Peanut Butter Panda Puffs by Envirokidz.

Peanut Butter what?

Peanut Butter Panda Puffs by Envirokidz. Their cereals are all organic and named after animals; it’s essentially an organic version of Captain Crunch.

Do I see a sponsorship brewing?

[Laughing] I wish…that would be outstanding! But no Envirokidz sponsor yet…

To hear more of Jonathan Siegrist’s thoughts, check out his slideshow presentation at Hampshire College this weekend.