Scarpa North America Blog

A Q&A with SCARPA team member, alpinist Caroline George

Apr. 4th 2011

Caroline George’s life resume is enviable. Born to American and French parents she grew up in Switzerland where she learned to speak four languages by the time she finished high school. Living in the Alps she’s been climbing and skiing since she could walk. While attending law school she participated in ice climbing comps for three years, so there’s that. Echewing the legal life, she’s now a professional climber and writer. When she’s not climbing for sponsors or translating articles for magazines from various countries, she works as a fully certified UIAGM guide with her husband. We were lucky to get SCARPA’s multi-tasker to give us an idea of how her world works.

What disciplines of climbing do you enjoy the most and why? I enjoy ice climbing the most. I love climbing up ephemeral frozen water flows that change constantly and are never the same from one year to the next. I also like climbing gully systems in the alpine: finding ice hidden between beautiful orange granite buttresses high up in the mountains.
What I really enjoy about climbing is the diversity of it, jumping from one discipline to the next: rock, alpine, ice and ski. With my job as a guide, I have to do it all and that’s what keeps it so interesting and rich.

Was there a natural progression from one to the next for you? I wouldn’t say there was a natural progression from one to the next. Motivation is what makes you progress in all disciplines. But I believe that rock climbing is the base of it all and that if you’re a strong rock climber, you can be stronger in all the other disciplines, and that’s where I need to improve the most.

When did you realize being a professional climbing was more important to you than practicing law? Is there room for both, a balance? I have struggled with finding a balance. But guiding gives meaning to my passion. If it wasn’t for guiding and sharing my knowledge and love of the mountains with others, I don’t think I could have pursued climbing professionally. In that, I find balance. I am also involved with product development with my sponsors and I really enjoy discovering that whole aspect of things. Writing is another way to give meaning to my passion. I went into law believing in the concept of justice. When I started law school, it was obvious to me that such a concept didn’t exist, at least not in the way I perceived it. But I decided to give it a try anyway. When I started working in a law firm, I soon realized that I was spending more time checking weather forecasts and route conditions at work, or being all together absent from work to go climbing on nice days, and I decided that life was too short to spend 80 percent of it doing something I didn’t feel passionate about.

What are the hardest aspects of being a professional climber? What are the rewards? I love the combination of being a guide and an athlete, they both complement each other and give me a purpose in pursuing my passion guiltlessly. The rewards are immense when you’re out doing what you love and you’re taking someone along, and what they are experiencing with you with life changing for them. Just to know that you’ve provided a positive moment in someone’s life is unique.
The other perks of being a professional athlete is that I get to be on the road a lot and travel to amazing places, connecting with locals on a whole other level than you would visiting a country with climbing there.

Growing up in Switzerland and becoming fluent in four languages definitely gives you a communicative advantage when climbing around Europe. Do you feel it makes it easier to immerse yourself in different cultures more easily, and does that add to the climbing experience for you? Yes, indeed. I love languages and being able to transition from one language to the next is one of my favorite things in life. I am fluent in English and French and love to speak German and Italian but am not fully fluent, but that’s something I am going to work on. But I am not unique in that most people speak tons of languages in Europe, especially in Switzerland. I’ve had experiences where I didn’t speak a word of the local language (in Russia, for example), and that is the utmost frustrating situation. I feel that without speaking languages, you really miss out on a lot of the experience. It’s really rich to be able to go a crag and chat with people at a crag in their own language, or talk with visitors from other countries.

What SCARPA products are you keen on these days, and why? I just got back from Jordan where I used my Gecko Guide for approaches and on easy climbs and I was really impressed with the sticky rubber, the fit, how light they are and the precision. The best approach shoe for me. For rock I use the Instinct S and they fit really nicely, without digging to much into my heel. They are precise and climb thin cracks as well as they climb sport climbs. They are easy to take off and put on at your liking. For ski, I wear the Gea. Light, lots of back flexibility on the uphill and stiff for good downhill skiing. I love that they have two levels to forward bend. For the Alpine, I wear the Phantom Guides: integrated gaiter, stiff sole, warm, perfect alpine and ice climbing boot.

What are your plans for the coming months? Any big goals? I just returned from a month in Antarctica guiding Mount Vinson, skiing and doing five fun first ascents. Five days later, I was on a plane to Thailand to climb for First Ascent, and then on to Jordan to put up a new route. We named it “Uprising,” in view of the events taking place in the Middle East. It was a trip to reconnect with my roots; I had been there when I was 11 years old, with my parents who did first ascents there, and I went back to come full circle with that. I am in Chamonix now and guiding full time, and have some personal routes I want to do as well. I am hoping to go to the Dolomites in the Spring to finish a long-time project of mine. And in the Fall, I’ll be back in Zion to play on what I think is the most beautiful route in the world: Moonlight Buttress.

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