The closest approximation to king-crab fishing, Roger Strong says, is single-push alpine climbing.
“Only you can’t take rest days in the Bering Sea,” he says. “You basically get your ass kicked for four months straight.”
Strong is an accomplished all-around climber who is best known as the captain on the first two seasons of the Deadliest Catch on the Discovery channel.
At 18, Strong started a career in commercial fishing, specializing in catching Alaskan king crab. This dangerous and labor-intensive job involves hauling 800-pound steel cages out of the frigid water every five to 10 minutes, then sorting the catch with wooden fingers while maneuvering around a deck that sways violently in 45-foot waves. With a five-minute life expectancy in the 40-degree F waters, falling overboard isn’t an option.
Already accustomed to suffering in the cold, Strong spends as much time as he can alpine, ice, rock and mixed climbing. In between fishing trips in Alaska, he takes the crab boat out to the local sea cliffs around Dutch Harbor at night to get his ice-climbing fix.
“I’d park the boat near the closest cliff band, turn on the huge sodium lights and solo as many routes as possible while my crew was up town getting trashed at the bar. This way I could watch them come stumbling home and make sure they made it back on the boat safely. One to three people die each year in Alaska at the dock just from tripping trying to get on or off the boat.”
At Dutch Harbor, Strong met the adventure videographer and climber Scott Simper, who was filming a documentary for the Discovery Channel. They climbed together and upon finding out Strong was the captain of a crabbing boat, Simper brought a camera crew on his boat and shot footage that would become the popular Deadliest Catch.
“During the first season,” Strong says, “we had my first-ever man overboard. We pulled the guy out and saved him, but it was seriously intense. The camera crew and producer loved the action, of course. I spent the next three days going over safety drills with everyone on board, including the film crew, making sure we were all up to speed. It gets serious real quick out there.”
Strong credits his ability to handle life-and-death moments with his time spent big-wall climbing in Yosemite. On an early ascent of Aurora (VI 5.7 A4), he took a 70-footer, ripping an entire ’head seam that had taken hours of delicate work. Other ascents include the Voodoo Project Wall on the East Face of Mount Index, Summerland (VI 5.10 A3+) on the Falls Wall in Yosemite, and the first ascent of Voice of Reason, a 3,000-foot alpine route (ED4 M7 A5) on the north face of Kichatna Spire in Alaska.
“At the time, aid climbing was a way to get to places that might never be free climbed. Now that I’ve become a better rock, ice and mixed climber, it’s been fun going for these routes as free and fast as possible.
“Alpine climbing is the pinnacle. I love climbing routes that have a question mark over them—not knowing if my partner and I are going to send the rig or not.”