Mike Foley likes to draw, usually portraits, in charcoal. He spends anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days on a given drawing. “I like stuff that involves a lot of fine-detail work,” he says. “I’m pretty meticulous like that.” He also likes complex, “minute-detail” climbs.
Foley, 21, of Lincoln, Massachusetts, was the relative unknown who in July busted out the third ascent of Jaws II (5.15a), Rumney, New Hampshire. First done as Jaws (5.14b) in 1998 by Dave Graham, the line lost crucial holds over time, and was freed and rechristened in 2007 by Vasya Vorotnikov. Jaws II saw a second ascent only last year, by Daniel Woods.
As a person Foley is quiet, though humorous, and focused. In describing his own process on climbs, he says, “I have a really good spatial memory, so I just remember a lot of things that people overlook.” He laughs. “Lots of micro beta.”
Andrew Freeman of Brookline, Massachusetts, a frequent climbing partner, concurs. “He has an amazing geometrical memory,” he says. “He remembers the shapes of holds.”
The send was no surprise to those who are aware that Foley did Rumney’s China Glide (5.14d) last summer; and his name is known all too well by anyone he’d beaten for years on the junior-comp circuit. A climber since age 11, Mike was Junior National Champion in bouldering in 2007, Junior National Champion in lead in 2008 and 2009, and Continental Champion in lead in 2009.
His climbing background includes redpointing the eight-pitch bolted route the Black Dyke (5.13b) in Squamish, British Columbia, in a day having taken only one fall, on the crux pitch; and some trad, up to the Zombie Roof (5.12d) in Squamish.
“Growing up around a lot of artists taught me always to be very thorough in everything I do,” he says. “I’ve learned never to half-ass anything.”A student in environmental science at Quest University in Squamish, Mike is the son of an Irish father and a Filipino mother, and he grew up in a very artistic family. His father is a graphic designer and his mother a book binder, while his brother, 24, majored in studio art.
“Growing up around a lot of artists taught me always to be very thorough in everything I do,” he says. “I’ve learned never to half-ass anything.”
As it happens, problems can arise from his laser focus: He says of his art pieces, “I’m never really satisfied with my work. I always end up focusing on the details so much that I lose sight of the piece as a whole.”
What, though, could force synthesis better than a redpoint, with all its finality?
“Maybe the reason I’ve stuck with climbing so long,” Foley says, “is that it’s one of the few things I’ve ever tried where I can put the pieces together to make something I’m proud of.” Nothing’s simple, though.
“Whenever I finish a project, I’m always looking for what’s next. In that sense, I’m never really satisfied.
What made you decide to study in Squamish?
I like to be outside all the time and this just seemed like a good way to go. It’s a good change of pace from New England. The people here are different and the scenery and everything is so opposite from the East Coast. It’s cool to bounce between the coasts.
In what way are the people different?
People from the West Coast are just a lot more polite. I’m used to dealing with a lot of Massholes.
What made you choose Jaws II?
I’ve been climbing at Rumney for a very long time and have sort of done pretty much all the stuff I could do and I was running out of projects. There were only two left for me, The Fly and Jaws. The Fly is a two-bolt 5.14. It was summer and I thought I might as well start trying Jaws. I spent a few weeks on it and found some beta that worked for me. Once I finally did the move I couldn’t do before, I got really excited.
What did you think watching the video of you on it?
I remembered it being a lot harder than it looked [on film]. I was trying pretty hard!
"I really respect people that can manage to balance school or a fulltime job and still climb hard. I think I respect that more than people who are bumming around climbing."Has this gotten you excited to try other routes?
It was a really good confidence boost. I’m excited to get on some stuff in Canada.
Dreamcatcher? [Chris Sharma’s 2005 5.14d in Squamish, repeated by Sean McColl in 2009]
Do you want to do more trad climbing?
I prefer sport climbing but I can see myself getting more into trad climbing. I don’t have my own rack, though.
My brother’s a very good biker. He got me into biking when I was younger. Now that I’ve moved out to B.C., I’m getting into it more. I think it’s definitely helped my climbing. Kind of gets my mind off climbing and puts me in a different mindset, and my overall fitness gets better if I’m biking a lot.
I really respect people that can manage to balance school or a fulltime job and still climb hard. I think I respect that more than people who are bumming around climbing. It’s easier to meet your climbing goals if you’re only climbing.
Ever made a particularly good decision in climbing?
Not to get surgery on my shoulder after being told by two doctors that I needed it.
One you regret?
Missing the registration deadline for the Vail World Cup because I misread an e-mail. Lesson learned.
What do you think about before trying a big redpoint?
I try not to think more than one move ahead at a time, and I tell myself that I’m going to try really, really hard when I get to the crux.
Why do you call your top three routes on 8a.nu all “soft”?!
I don’t believe that I can actually climb that hard.