Kevin Wilkinson keeps a fairly low profile. That’s pretty easy to do when you live in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, and spend most of your day honing your climbing chops and developing routes in one of the best sport cragging areas in the lower 48. The Canadian-born transplant wound up here after meeting his wife Alli Rainey – also a SCARPA athlete – at a climbing festival in Vegas. A good story would’ve been they got hitched then and there. Instead they became climbing partners, and approached their courtship more like a hard boulder problem, keeping at it diligently until they put it all together with skill, determination and honesty. Perhaps a little luck, too. The international couple lives an agrarian lifestyle where Kevin has been one of the more prodigious route setters in the area. “It actually takes away from my skill,” he says. Nevertheless, he’s found a balance in his climbing that many of us could follow.
Where did you grow up and how did you get into climbing?
I grew up in Kimberley, British Columbia with awesome parents, and the best brother a guy could ask for. They have given nothing but love and support, even with all my off-the-beaten-path lifestyle choices.
I didn’t get into climbing so much as it got into me. I spent my childhood doing pull ups and falling out of trees or buildings until my pop finally asked one of his friends who was into climbing to, in his words, “show this kid how to do this stuff safely”. The moment I touched rock that was it. I bought a rope and three locking ’biners, and I threw that rope off the top of every piece of rock I could find… until I found out what a hammer drill was. That changed what end of the cliff I started from.
You and your wife currently reside in Ten Sleep, Wyoming. What about the climbing is so attractive for you?
What attracted Alli and I to the Ten Sleep, Wyoming, area was the abundance of good, climbable rock. I live for finding an amazing wall or cave, and developing new, exciting playgrounds to swing around in. Also, I have never liked cities and with 260 people, Ten Sleep is far from a city!
Developing climbing is as much a part of your climbing ambitions as pushing your limits. Can you speak to that?
I have wasted more fresh days of climbing because of being too tired from bolting then I can count. Do I regret any of them? Nope. `Cause I love bolting new exciting lines!
My last project took me two years to complete. Is that a long time? Maybe to some, but as long as it stays fun, the time or number of tries doesn’t matter to me. Now, could I have sent it fast if I wasn’t always bolting on my rest days? Most definitely. But for me pushing a grade or trying to send hard isn’t as important as having fun or loving what your doing on that day. And many of my days have been soaked in fun from the thrill of finding and developing a new, exciting line.
You’re leading a clinic at the upcoming International Climbers’ Festival in Lander. Can you tell us what you’re teaching?
I will be teaching the How to Fall Safe Clinic with my awesome wife. We make a very good team for working clinics; our skills complement each other, helping us cover a wide variety of detail, information and technique, and the Fall Safe Clinic is our favorite to teach. It’s a fun clinic that people are guaranteed to walk away from as safer, happier and much more confident climbers.
You like steep, overhanging roofs and caves. What’s the allure for you?
I like clean, vertical, techy face climbing – don’t get me wrong, it’s very cerebral, like an incredibly intricate puzzle you solve with your finger tips and tip toes. But the full body and mind experience of climbing out 100-plus feet of super steep rock adds to the excitement for me. It adds an intensity lacking on the vert. It’s like stepping into a battle rather than a dance. A route that requires you to move with power, speed and precision in order to succeed, pushing your whole body to its limits, and forcing your mind to ignore the steady flow of signals telling you to stop – that’s a truly full experience, and that’s what really lights my fire.
What SCARPA shoes are you using these days? What do you like about them?
I hike up to the crag in the rugged Crux Canvas; they can take a beating, which is what I give them. Then I’ll pull out two pairs of climbing shoes. The Instinct VS for everything steep. They give me the supple, yet precise toe I need to grab hold-like hooks, and a well built heel and toe capped with rubber for all the upside down technical hooks and trickery needed to succeed on steep sport routes or powerful boulder problems. Then the second shoe is the Instinct lace-ups for technical face climbs. These shoes have out performed every shoe I’ve ever tried, and have a near perfect balance of precision edging, mixed with the sensitivity needed to feel secure and confident on horrifyingly bad holds.
What future projects are keeping you honest?
As for future projects I have at least five on the go and more in the oven. One in particular I have put many runs on, and hope to get done either before it’s too hot, or if need be, once it cools down. I have no problems trying it for as long as it takes because of the huge smile it puts on my face every time I suit up for the battle.