Broadening horizons can definitely have its benefits. Sam Elias knows this. The mixed climbing pro just got back from an Everest expedition, a major departure for an individual who normally makes bigger waves in ice climbing festivals and sport climbing test pieces. What’s more, he’s left the west for the summer and is currently living in New York City, training hard, but also embracing the lifestyle change to hopefully retain a broader sense of self. We had the chance to speak with him briefly before he went to work on the docks along the East River. This fall the SCARPA athlete heads back to Europe to reacquaint himself with the sharp end.
How did you get involved with an Everest Expedition? It’s not really you’re kind of climbing, at least from what we know of you. Having been a skier since I was 2, the mountains were always a cherished place for me. They have played an important role for most of my life. Though the style is not one that I am very practiced in, I was comfortable with my surroundings. I was asked to be a part of the expedition by Conrad Anker as part of a mentorship project, as well as to participate in the many other responsibilities of the expedition with National Geographic, The Mayo Clinic, and Montana State University.
Do you feel like it broadened your skill set? Did it give you ideas about taking your mixed climbing into higher, bigger peaks? Why or why not? The trip broadened my skills in the general terms of a big expedition, high altitude, and cold weather. But, in terms of climbing, any new skills are very specific to Everest. It is a unique mountain through its commercialization, and subsequent methodology of climbing. However, just being there certainly opened my eyes to climbing bigger objectives. Maybe not necessarily 8000 meter peaks, but perhaps 6000 and 7000 meters via technically demanding and varying terrain.
You got the chance to climb some technical terrain in the Phantom boots. How was ice climbing in 8000-meter boots? It wasn’t too bad—pretty impressive actually. Thankfully the ice wasn’t too steep or varied, so the compromised movement and ankle articulation due to the extra insulation wasn’t a problem.
New York City is a fairly big change from Boulder. How does it feel to experience a big city on its terms? How does it affect your climbing mindset? Yeah, I’m in NYC for the moment before heading to Europe for the autumn. I love the city. The first time I visited, I hated it though. It was too much for me then. There is so much energy here, so many people just doing their thing. You can be whomever you want, and no one cares. There is so much stimulation and inspiration here. With so much always going on, it has helped to bring a balance to my climbing. I find myself climbing and training a little less, which is good for me because I tend to over-train.
What’s it like to train in a concrete jungle as someone who trains and performs much of the time outside? I like the city and find it beautiful in its own way. In the last few years, I’ve spent plenty of time outside, away in much more natural environments. So all that time helps me to appreciate this concrete jungle, and was probably the reason I sought it out. My time here has been allowing me the space to reflect, and appreciate the more natural and remote places that I have been, and will hopefully go to again.
This fall sees you headed to Europe. What projects will you be working on this fall? Any comps? I am definitely going to Spain and Greece, maybe France. There is a super cool climbing festival September 28-30 on the island of Kalymnos. There is a comp there, but that’s the only one I’ll participate in. I just want to sport climb and feel strong and light—to feel real rock with my fingers and toes with the wind on my back and through my hair.
My winter was spent working and my spring was spent on Everest. I came back really weak and out of practice. It has been a long time away from the rock. My strength and skill is returning, but it has been frustrating. My head is down now, and hopefully it will render me climbing well in Europe.