Matt McCormick is probably best known for a 35-foot, spinning fall from his trad 5.13c R, Wheelin' and Dealin', on the Spider's Web, Adirondacks, New York. The sickening plummet on sketchy gear was filmed and posted online.
Maybe he should also be appreciated for his driving. For two years, McCormick, age 26, would teach school all week in Sudbury, Massachusetts, then drive two hours up to Plymouth, New Hampshire, and stay with friends Friday night. He'd rise at 3 a.m., meet his partner Josh Worley in Littleton at 4 a.m., and reach the ice of Lake Willoughby, Vermont, by 6. They'd climb all day, finish in the dark, he'd reach Plymouth at 10:30 at night, and then get up the next day and do it all over again.
"We were so committed to the Lake," he says. "We had gone to the Canadian Rockies and done a couple of routes on the Stanley Headwall, Suffer Machine [M7 WI 5] and French Reality [WI 6] in early-season conditions. We said, 'We have to go back to the Lake.' Suddenly they saw the potential for new, big mixed lines."
From that trip was born Astro Turf (M9 WI 5), at Lake Willoughby, in the winter of 2006, on which Worley sent a very hard mixed traverse, on the first attempt whipping off. McCormick led the next pitch, a hard drytooling roof to a half-inch-thick sheet of vertical ice, detached, without pro.
Every now and then on ice you feel good going for it, and just accept the situation, he says. Other times you don't, and you just back off.
Among his other highlight FAs are last year's Tunnel Vision (M9) and Paradigm Shift (M8-), both at Snake Mountain, Vermont, as well as Machine Shop (M8 WI 6) with Josh Hurst, at Lake Willoughby. He also, with Naomi Risch, put up the four-pitch rock route Northern Revival (5.12c R) at the Upper Washbowl, in the Adirondacks. He has done long trad linkups on Cathedral and Cannon in New Hampshire, and climbed sport routes up to 5.13c at Terradets, Spain.
Says Freddie Wilkinson of North Conway, "Matt's one of the top young all-arounders in the country. He's a true New Englander, with a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor. But underneath that you can tell he has a lot of drive, not just for climbing in general but also training and projecting. You might even call him intense, but it's self-focused, without ego or competitiveness."
McCormick is now teaching at an independent high school for at-risk youth in Burlington, where he lives with Risch. Though installed in the middle of New England climbing, he still clocks some miles: like driving 15 hours to the Red, or flying to Canmore, for four days each.
Ever crashed your car?
Surprisingly not, but I definitely have had a few scary doze-offs.
What's next for you?
This winter I'm excited about mixed climbing at Snake Mountain, a mile-long cliff band littered with all these icicles. For rock, a couple more projects in the Adirondacks, on Moss Cliff. Peter Kamitses has freed two of the aid routes on that wall. There's one more.
What are your strengths in climbing?
I am really committed to training and putting in the time to get better. I am definitely not naturally talented like some climbers are but I can deal with the hours in the gym and hours in the car. I think working a Monday-to-Friday job for so long has made me really try and capitalize on the days I do have.
You've done plenty of sport climbing. What is the fascination with poorly protected routes?
In New England there are not that many hard and easily protected gear routes to be found, so it seems that to push it you have to go to the routes that aren't rated G. I really like the process of figuring out how to protect those kind of scary routes and then accepting the gear you can get and going for it. I like the element of consequence in climbing, but certainly not all the time. That's why I go to places like Spain and the Red.
You've done long linkups on Cathedral and Cannon. Any others in mind?
I've always envisioned a Cannon/Cathedral day where I would try and do three major routes on each cliff. Josh and I have always talked about a 24-hour day at the Lake, too. Kind of silly, I guess.
Ever had any big epic?
Several years ago Jim Shimberg and I did the West Face [5.11c] of El Cap. It was a really big undertaking for me at the time and it took all day. We topped out at midnight and needed to catch our flight in Sacramento at 6 a.m. We had trouble finding the East Ledges and were pretty close to bivying when we stumbled onto the trail and made it down. I pounded a Red Bull and drove to the airport while Jim slept in the back of the rental van.
Do you plan to stay in New England?
Yes! I love the diversity of climbing here but most of all I love the community of climbers. We have one of the best single ice-climbing crags in the world at Lake Willoughby to a lifetime's worth of first-ascent rock projects in the Daks, to world-class sport climbing in Rumney. Every time I travel, by the end of the trip I end up talking about something I want to do when I get back to New England.