Scarpa North America Blog

One Man’s Continuum: Vince Anderson’s Mountaineering Evolution

Dec. 6th 2013

Vince Anderson has come full circle in the mountaineering milieu. A third generation Coloradan, he began his mountaineering career at a young age, hiking to a fire lookout with his parents before the age of five. He took to the hills as any young mountaineer, satiating his appetite with climbing and skiing as much as possible. His abilities bloomed and he realized he had a genuine talent at persevering in the big peaks. In September 2005, he and Steve House completed the 13,000-plus-vertical-foot Central Pillar of the Rupal Face, on Pakistan’s Nanga Parbat, one of the world’s largest, most spectacular walls. The two were awarded the Piolet d’Or, France’s highest honor for mountaineering excellence, a first for any North American. He’s also a husband and father of three young boys, works as a fully certified IMFGA guide, instructor and examiner. Vince is also a humble vinyl collector who loves the thunderous sounds of quality metal.

You’re first mountain experience was with your parents, who took you up the Devil’s Head by Colorado Springs when you were four?

It is a pretty short hike and only a hike, but it ascends to a craggy-looking summit with a fire lookout station on top. I was very curious about the “house” on top. When I asked my mom who lived up there, she replied, “the Mountain Man.” Later that year, in a scrapbook my mom kept (unfortunately, long since discarded), I answered the question, what do I want to be when I grow up? My response, “The Mountain Man.” Living up in such a lofty place seemed both surreal and intriguing to me. It led me to continue seeking adventure in the mountains as I grew up, from biking and skiing to climbing and mountaineering.

When did you realize you had an aptitude for climbing big mountains?

I came to climbing with aspirations of going to big mountains. Technical cragging though fun, was always a means to an end for me; that end was going to the high mountains. I could climb well enough at the crags, but have always had an aptitude for endurance and suffering. So, taking my technical skills to the mountains seemed natural to me, almost purposeful. I wanted to find the biggest ones possible.

For a while it seemed like Mount Saint Elias, Alaska. When I started guiding in the mid ’90s, I went with St. Elias Alpine Guides. I tried St. Elias once, but weather shut me down. However, climbing in that range taught me a lot about being “way out there,” away from help and information. I learned to become very self-reliant, and to think for myself. There aren’t many super topos for the routes out there.

When preparing for big objectives, how do you prepare for the mental game? Has that been easy or difficult for you?

I find the mental game is the biggest challenge to accomplishing big objectives. For me, it is an “all in” mentality. That is, once I’ve committed to doing something, I’m totally committed and will dedicate every last ounce of energy I have towards achieving it. This single minded, strong will has its advantages for success in some things, but certainly comes at a cost of neglecting many other (potentially important) things in life. It would be hard to say that I had good balance in my most productive climbing years, but I figured I had the rest of my life to catch up on that. To some extent, having survived those years, that’s exactly what I’m doing now.

Like many things, the best way to train is to do. I find that by doing mentally engaging climbs when I’m cragging it keeps my mind sharp for the mental game up high. For me, this is a lot of winter cragging and ice climbing. Ice climbing is truly a leader’s game. Most half-way-decent ice climbers can top rope any ice, no problem. But not that many climbers can lead any ice with no problem. The difference is the headspace involved. Going out on the sharp end in these difficult and dangerous situations is one way I keep my mental game sharp. Of course, I also feasted on a steady diet of tricky trad rock climbs and choss to supplement during the warmer months.

How does having a family play into the mental game for you personally?

It factors in heavily since the level of risk I feel is less acceptable to take on now than it was prior to becoming a parent. Risk is interesting, however, since it is relative to your own perspective and skill level. That being said, I’m not as willing to push the boat out as far from shore as I used to be. As a result, the mental game is a bigger deal. I’ve still got it when I need it, I just don’t train the mental muscle in the same way I used to. I rely more on a broad experience base than on grit and courage now.

What do you value in a solid partner when setting out on significant alpine test pieces? It’s simple: respect, discipline and courage. I need to have respect for him or her in all ways, not just as a climber. And, that respect should be mutual. I want them to have the discipline needed to work hard in preparation for the objective and to put forth the necessary work to succeed. They also need to have the courage to do the hard pitches and to say “no” when things are not right.

How does being a “professional climber” fall in line with being a professional mountain guide? Do they compliment or compromise each other?

It can go either way. To some extent, being a mountain guide compliments being a professional climber more so than, say, working a normal desk job. At least you are out in the mountains on a regular basis, and may have ample opportunity to train in your spare time. However, working as a guide does limit one from having a more routine schedule, which is far more conducive to training the body.

It worked out well for me, as I would often just say “no” to potential work if it was going to significantly interfere with my training or climbing goals. I may have suffered financially at times, but guiding did allow me to get to the right places to do some very sport-specific training (i.e. lots of base mileage going up and down mountains).

I think what is hard for many guides is to keep that spark alive, to make them want to get out and go for it when they have time off. I see many that are far more interested to just go cragging or sport climbing, perhaps trying to re-gain fitness lost from slogging snowy peaks for work. I think for some, guiding is a way to support their climbing habit, and for others it’s the exact opposite, which is fine, really.

Has the prospect of adventure changed for you over the course of your career? What’s changed and what’s evolved? Anything stayed the same?

Adventure to me has been, is, and always will be a primary motivating force in my life. It may be a familiar story, but maybe the definition of adventure has evolved some for me. First and foremost, adventure involves confronting an unknown. That could be safety, it could be wilderness, it could be success, it could be many other things, but uncertainty has to be part of it. In that, I still fully embrace the challenge of something unknown, and the experience of preparing for and then confronting it.

High alpinism to reach the extent of my physical, mental and emotional capacities? Not now. The stakes are too high for the types of things that would make my motor purr. I do, however, continue to guide and share experiences with my clients that, to many, would be considered quite adventurous and difficult. Over the last few years, I’ve found that I’m pushing myself more to my limits in activities that involve organized competition, like mountain biking and rando ski racing. I can get to my limit and the worst that can happen is probably just a falling over. I can deal with that.

In no particular order, what are your top five vinyl albums that you own?

That’s a hard one!! See the photo below.

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