Chris Thomas will be the first to admit he has some well-established OCD, and it suits him just fine. The SCARPA-sponsored athlete flip flops from Rock to Ice to Alpine with equal enthusiasm, and the results show he’s just getting better at all of them. Rough, we know. He just left for Europe to pursue the manic muse of his rock climbing, but we got him to focus for a moment on what it’s like to follow his growing compulsion for all things climbing.
You grew up in the less-than-mountainous state of Maryland. How did you originally get introduced to climbing, and how did you end up climbing at a high level at such a young age? I was introduced to climbing when my Boy Scout troop went to a gym about an hour away from where I grew up near Baltimore. At the time, I lived and breathed to play hockey. But once I got a taste for climbing, I quit playing hockey and never looked back. The sense of self-reliance and the collective components of athleticism, risk management, adventure and travel grabbed me like nothing else. I committed to climbing with the same passion and intensity and focus that drove me to succeed on the ice rink, and I think that made a huge difference in my progression as a climber. I was (and still am) obsessive.
Have you had some good mentors along they way? What have they passed on? Although countless people and partners have influenced and guided me, two in particular stand out: Chris Warner—bad-ass alpine climber and my former boss. Chris’ wisdom about not just climbing, but life in general has had a profoundly positive effect on my life. I started working for Chris’ climbing gym and guide service during summer vacation from high school. Learning about taking responsibility for your actions, being honest with yourself, and living with integrity, passion, and commitment were valuable lessons that have stuck with me ever since. In my hypoxic and highly edema-rich state, Chris helped make sure I didn’t walk off a cliff last year on Denali.
The other is Will Mayo, who is the ultimate when it comes to boundless motivation. Will’s psych and ability to totally commit to a project have taught me to expand my own definition of what’s possible. Will is a one-of-a-kind type of friend—his intelligence, experience, incredible talent and selfless generosity have been nothing short of life changing.
Are you currently doing anything with school? Is it on hold while you pursue climbing for the time being? My academic career has been one of many firsts and starts. I’ve always been interested in physics, engineering and science in general, but I haven’t been able to pull myself away from life’s other adventures. I spend a lot of down time reading and trying to learn about as many different subjects as I can. I definitely regret missing the college experience that most of my peers went through, but when I think about all of the crazy adventures I’ve been on while they were slaving away studying for finals, it’s easy to get over it.
What are your highlights from the last year? Any personal breakthroughs that opened you eyes to new potential? A nagging shoulder injury definitely limited what I could pull off last year, but it’s rehabbed and fully back in action now. However, if I could pick one highlight day last year it was a link-up weekend.
On a Saturday I finished my sport project at a remote, high altitude limestone crag in northeast Utah. It’s on a beautiful streaked wall with impeccable rock quality and really gymnastic moves. That evening I drove to the Tetons with a good friend, and while he soloed an ice route on Middle Teton, I soloed a route that I’d wanted to do forever: the Black Ice Couloir. It was the perfect juxtaposition: tendon tweaking sport climbing followed by a classic moderate ice solo. Being absolutely and totally worked on the drive home was really rewarding. We had to stop and sleep a couple of times just to make the five-hour drive.
It seems you have an equal enthusiasm of rock, ice and alpine objectives. What about that balance appeals to you and why? I don’t know if I’d call it balance so much as manic-ness. One of the things I love about climbing is there are so many different avenues to take, yet it all still falls into the category of “climbing”. I get the same sense of reward from walking up Denali as I do from mixed climbing in a cave, bouldering with friends over beers, or new routing on some remote choss heap in the desert. Different kinds of adventure and keeping things fresh continues to make climbing a love of my life year after year.
What SCARPA products are you keen on these days? What about them appeals to your style of climbing? The Boostics. Seriously, these things are game changers. Perfect fit, they can stand on microscopic edges, and are equally at home on vert and the steeps. I was amazed the first time I tried them, footholds I could never stand on with my old shoes now felt like jugs. I also have a pair of Freney XT’s [now the Jorasses Pro GTX] that I’ve had forever and absolutely love. The fit, weight and incredible durability over hundreds of days of ice and mixed climbing can’t be beat. They have just the right performance, warmth and weight balance to be perfect for ice climbing in the lower 48.
You’re headed off on a road trip this coming month. Can you share some info on what you’re up to? I’ve been going to either Alaska or South America for alpine climbing every spring/summer since I was 18. This spring I’m switching it up: rock climbing in Europe. We’re mostly checking out the picturesque and historic areas in Croatia, but hope to have time to explore Slovenia and Bosnia as well. Topless beaches, limestone, red wine, lots of delicious fried food, and my girlfriend coming with me seems like a pretty good trade for – 40° temps in AK!