Chris Schulte, born in Bandera, Texas, after his three siblings were grown, was an uncle before birth. When his father retired, Chris at 15 informed his parents that they were all moving to Durango, Colorado, so he could race mountain bikes. The parents would soon miss Texas, and return home; Chris lived on in Durango, in a small RV they supplied, and from 15 on he took care of himself.
He graduated from high school a semester early, continuing to read on his own: from Beat authors and Hermann Hesse to old Chinese, Japanese and Indian texts such as the great classical novels Water Margin and Dream of the Red Chamber, a 12-volume collection, absorbing from them an Eastern idea of harmony with nature.
"In every culture," Schulte, now 33, says, "you find the sage on top of the mountain. I did search, in my late teens and early 20s, for truth and it put me outside a lot. My search keeps going, pretty much every time I go out. There are so many boulders, tons - I find new ones every time. You get this gift every time you find a new boulder or line, this beautiful line that you've crashed through the bushes and found, and it's been sitting there all this time."
In July, Schulte sent the third ascent of Daniel Woods' The Great War For Civilisation (V13), Lincoln Lake. Other milestones have been Khéops Assis and Gecko Assis (both V14) in Fontainebleau; Big Worm (V14) at Mount Evans (second to do it); and Flamingnon (V13) at Hueco Tanks. Schulte is an explorer at heart, and his own legion problems include What's Left of the Bottom of My Heart (V13), Poudre Canyon; Free Range (V13) and The Right (V13), in Boulder Canyon; and, unrepeated as of press time: 1%er (V13), Bokken (a highball V12 done alone, far from car or help) and Gatecrasher (V12), Mount Evans; and Yonder Goes the Light (possible V13) near Durango.
"Sometimes when you're in it," he says of bouldering, "you don't get to appreciate it. You're struggling and failing 90 percent of the time. Hard bouldering is so particular. It seems like so much is stacked against you, and then one day you do it, and it's almost a surprise."
Schulte began climbing at age 17 in Durango because he was blown away that a boy on his mountain-bike team was doing pull-ups off one finger of each arm. From 17 to 21 Chris worked as a chef in restaurants, and then segued into growing marijuana, a line of work that earned him the embrace of the long arm of the law.
In Boulder, where he lives today, he held a job supervising five landscaping crews, until the company went under. At the moment he is living on small sponsorships, shares a house with his girlfriend, Jackie Hueftle, and has been remodeling and landscaping it, but mainly climbing - outdoors only, and not on plastic.
Schulte in person is not what you might expect after seeing photos of him with veins popping out all over his bulging biceps, shaven of head, and scowling with focus. He is smiling, loose-limbed and generous, quick to laugh and to answer a question thoughtfully.
When did you really start bouldering?
At 22 I had no job except for growing weed, had way more time than anyone else, and often bouldered alone. My climbs were getting shorter and harder and all of a sudden I was just bouldering all the time. At 23 or 24, I kind of figured out what I wanted to do. I wanted to try hard and I wanted to climb.
I broke the news to my partner, that I was done with the marijuana business and was leaving to climb. We rode home, with me on the back of his motorcycle. I pulled in, and thought, Oh, the neighbors are having a party.
I saw a shadow in the window, and a man wearing a star opened the door. They hauled us off to jail. I bailed out but, after my court date, was back in, paying fines and serving a month.
What was it like in there?
People watch horrible TV. They sit in there and watch cops. They're in jail and they watch cops all day.
Were you afraid?
No. At this point I'd been a rock climber. I was pretty fit. When I was moved to another cell block, first thing I did was crank out some one-finger [on each arm] pull-ups [laughs] and nobody bothers you. But everyone who's in there is kind of afraid. You never know who you're going to get mixed up with.
What about when you got out?
I was heartbroken. I had a record. It was a felony. I can't vote. You lose a lot. I had to stay [in the area], so I got a job landscaping, which turned out to be really good.
How many FAs have you done?
No idea. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds.
You often climb alone.
My motivation is internal. I go where I want to go. If there are people there, great. [But] I've got an agenda. I do like to see people succeed. If the energy's good, I enjoy it, but I don't climb any better because people are there and I've never sought it out.
Yet you seem gregarious.
Honestly, after today I won't talk to anyone for two or three days. I get psyched sometimes and I dump stuff out and I'm really social, and the well runs dry and then I have to recharge.
What have you gained from devoting yourself to climbing?
When I was younger I would view myself almost from the third person. I wasn't super attached to myself. Climbing has showed me that I have all these emotions and that there are things I want to try hard for. Climbing made me want to strive. To try to complete things.