Written by: Christian Fracchia
Editor’s Note: This profile of Thea Maria Blodgett-Gallahan was published in the January/February 2012 issue of Climberism. Subscriptions are free, subscribe here.
Easily recognized by her small size, large laugh, and notably dirty pink jacket, Thea Marie Blodgett-Gallahan is a Northeast rock climber with a frenetic personality and unbridled enthusiasm for hard trad. Once Thea steps onto the rock her nervous energy subsides and one gets the sense that climbing is an effortless and peaceful endeavor. Born and raised in Ithaca New York, Thea at age 25 is quickly becoming recognized as one of the leading trad climbers in the Northeast. Her impressive quick repeats of classic hard lines in the Gunks and Adirondacks have solidified her reputation as a climber with both the mental stamina and creativity to climb and protect lines that have been thought of more as top-ropes than leads since the era of their first ascent.
On a recent trip to the Gunks I had the opportunity to ask Thea a few questions about her thoughts on climbing, life, and her future goals. During an oatmeal breakfast I managed to get in a few questions, but Thea’s impatience to climb would not allow her to sit still for an interview so I scribbled down her responses as I tried to keep up with her on the hike out to Millbrook. The next time I caught up with Thea she was anchored at the Survival Block belaying Jamie Hamilton and I managed to finish the interview thanks to Jamie’s ability to run multiple laps on 5.12.
What was your first outdoor climbing experience?
Christine Chin took me up High Exposure. She was a graduate student at Cornell who I knew from the climbing wall in Ithaca.
Wow, that’s quite the introduction! How did it go? Were you scared?
Yes, very scared, the whole experience was overshadowed by fear. I was especially scared whenever being left behind on the ground or a ledge. I thought I‘d like better to go first.
What were your experiences like after that?
Over the next few years I climbed a lot of Gunks moderates with my Dad. He bought the gas and drove; I led. My parents are both amazingly supportive of me, and consequently my climbing habit.
Did you know at that time that climbing would become such a passion inyour life?
Yes, but not to the extent that it is. I spent 6 months in California, mostly Joshua Tree and the Valley in 2005. I love crack climbing, ever since climbing the cement cracks at the climbing wall in Ithaca. I took to western climbing quickly and on that trip started leading at my ability level; I guess that trip really sealed the deal.
So do you still get scared?
Yeah! Climbing is incredibly scary, it takes so much energy and focus to stay physically engaged when my mind tells me not too, when there is a potential to whip. That is a constant challenge for me. It helps to climb and whip frequently so that I stay confident in my climbing and comfortable with flying. The energy that I spend hemming and hawing on hard routes can be a deal breaker, sabotaging success. Luckily I am not especially success oriented. When I can embody the balance of being rational, cognizant of my rope system, and climb intuitively it is really exhilarating.
How has climbing affected the rest of your life?
Climbing has cemented my love of physical activity. When I was a kid and walking small town errands with my mom I was a constant advocate for riding the bus and beggar for piggyback rides. Climbing dragged me out of that state of laziness, to the extent that I have grown to really love a physical challenge whenever it arises. Most recently as a new nurse I have found this challenge in the dexterity and coordination required for phlebotomy training.
What do you like about climbing in the North-East?
Foremost I live here. It’s exceptionally beautiful and the rock quality is indisputably good. The climbing community here is like a village without a traffic light, small but stacked with spirit and enthusiasm. I am inspired by the exceptional history and ethic of traditional climbing in the North East.
What about the West, have you done any long routes?
I adore the western rock. Yes this past Summer I got to do a route on Mt. Evans and a bunch of routes at the Devil’s Tower. Last summer I climbed D7 on the Diamond & onsighted the Naked Edge in Eldorado Canyon. I have climbed some longer trad routes in Yosemite, and Cochise stronghold AZ.
How did you do on the Wasp (A 5.13a trad route in Rocky Mountain National Park)? Is it as beautiful as people say it is?
Yes, it is absolutely fabulous. I was on it once last year and fell off. This year I got it first try of my second day on it; I was super psyched because Sean (Nelb) got it that day too.
So why do you focus on trad more than sport?
There’s just more to it, gymnastic strength is only one of the many components of trad climbing. The mental involvement required to know yourself, your gear, read routes and figure out how to climb them safely makes for more memorable and fulfilling days climbing. I generally find traditional routes aesthetic, following natural lines and less prone to feeling contrived. I don’t need to top out every climb, but trad routes generally feel more complete and fulfilling to me when they do top out.
What’s in store for the future?
Oh man, there’s so much for me to do! I want to do Zabba at the Web and these amazing 12’s out at Millbrook, especially Happiness and Nectar Vector. Requiem* Gravity’s if it will ever dry out. I haven’t done much climbing in New Hampshire so I am excited to do some climbing there too. I am just itching to climb all over the place. (*Note: Thea sent Requiem 12d/13a PG-R two weeks after the interview)
What would you ask yourself if you were interviewing yourself?
I would ask what the *** do you do in Ithaca all of the time, how do you stay motivated? Then I would answer that besides work, which takes up most of my energy. The Finger Lakes region is really beautiful, I like to bike, hike and run in the crumbly gorges. I do have some long-term non-climbing goals, such as building a picnic table, and that helps me live in an area without climbing.
So what are you going to do this winter?
I think you should get some ice tools and start putting up routes in the Catskills. How come I feel that your question is somewhat biased?