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Away from the Wall: Molly Mitchell

Athletes in isolation during the coronavirus crisis. A new limited-run column from R&I columnist Owen Clarke. Follow along as he checks in with top climbers to see what they are up to in their quarantine. This week: Molly Mitchell.

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Molly Mitchell is a professional rock climber.
Molly Mitchell. Photo: Tory Powers.

COVID-19 is keeping us off the rock, pros and average joes alike. We’re all having to find ways to cope. For this week’s “Away from the Wall,” I chatted with American crusher Molly Mitchell. Known for taking on perilous R-rated trad lines, Mitchell became the seventh woman in the world to send 5.14 trad after tackling Boulder Canyon’s China Doll (5.14a R) last fall. (Hazel Findlay has since become the eighth). She also battled up a gnarly 5.13 multiptich with Sasha DiGuilian in El Salto, Mexico early last year.

Doing her part to fight COVID-19 means no climbing, however, and unlike the subject of last week’s “Away from the Wall,” Adam Ondra, who owns his own gym, Mitchell is stuck at home in Boulder with only a hangboard. Still, the 26-year-old is keeping her spirits high, training, working on the splits, yodeling, and playing Animal Crossing.

Q&A with Molly Mitchell

What have you been up to since COVID-19 started?

I’ve been in Boulder at my house, isolating with my three roommates. I’m lucky in the sense that we get along well and hangout together. The other night we projected a movie on the front of our house, which was fun. I’m trying to keep up with training, too, but motivation is hard. I’m such a goal-oriented person but it’s hard to have goals right now. We don’t know how long it’ll go on for. It’s hard to imagine when I’ll be able to get outside or what I’ll be able to climb on.

What’s your day-to-day schedule like?

I’m trying to be creative, so my roommate’s girlfriend and I did a Tik-Tok dance the other day, which was fun. It sounds kind of nerdy, but I also really like playing Animal Crossing on the Switch! I’ve also been trying to incorporate more gymnastics, because I used to do gymnastics when I was little, and you don’t need anything but your body. It’s fun to see if my body can still do the stuff I could do when I was younger. I’m training, too, of course, but usually I’m not motivated to train until later in the day.

Mitchell working on her splits. Photo: Courtesy of Molly Mitchell.

So, Animal Crossing. Fill us in, what’s the deal with that game?

Molly Mitchell’s avatar in “Animal Crossing” ?.

It’s so good! The object of the game is to pay off your debt for your house. You have chores to do in town, you design your house how you want, design the town how you want. You’re the only human, but the animals are other citizens in the town. They talk to you, you can make friends with them and hangout with them. Most of the time I fish or catch bugs to make money. There’s no real point to the game, but it’s kind of like you’re playing society. I think that’s so attractive right now because we’re not able to be a society.

How much time each day do you spend on Animal Crossing?

Maybe a couple of hours (laughs).

Reading any books?

You’re going to laugh… but I love watching “The Bachelor,” and I haven’t read in a while, honestly, because usually I’m really busy and I just watch TV at night. So I decided to get a book that’s basically a “tell all” from one of the previous Bachelors. It’s his experience with everything, his life before, on the show, now after. “The Bachelor” is just such drama. Watching it you’re like ‘Wow, my life is nothing compared to this.’ It really is just a guilty pleasure.

What about training? What’s your setup?

I just have a hangboard. It’s a Zlagboard, so I was able to put eye bolts in to use a pulley to add and take off weight. The biggest things I’ve found helpful are weighted hangs, weighted pull-ups and one arm hangs. I usually train for a specific climb, but it’s hard to do that now, so instead I’ve found it helpful to set mini goals. One is the splits. I’ve got my left leg splits down, now I’m working on the right and middle. Another goal is to hang on a 20ml edge with one hand. I see all these other climbers doing it, I see Kyra [Condie] doing one arm pullups on it, and I’m like ‘Why can’t I do that?’

I’ve been trying to look at things more as, ‘I’m curious how I can get my body to do this’ as opposed to trying to stick to one routine, so I’m not looking at it as work I have to do every day, but more as something fun I’m excited about getting my body to do.

Mitchell on China Doll (5.14a R) last year. Photo: Jenn Flemming.

Do you feel you’ve been able to maintain your strength?

I definitely think I’ve made gains in the finger strength department. I feel like my training schedule is normally trying to do too many things at once. Now, since I can’t do everything and I’m focusing on specific goals, it’s been really beneficial for my power, and that’s my biggest weakness in climbing. I don’t know how my climbing has been affected, though. My running, on the other hand, has gotten terrible!

How are you handling the mental aspect of not being able to climb outside and the isolation? Advice?

I’m pretty open about the fact that I have an anxiety disorder, and being stuck at home is one of the worst things for it. I’ve had to learn how to deal with it more than before. The biggest things that have helped me are journaling and talking to friends. I also cut out most alcohol use. For a few days I was having a few drinks every night and I was like, ‘Wow, my anxiety is so high.’

But I think we’re all experiencing more anxiety. Being honest about where I’m at, recognizing triggers, that stuff has helped. I think when things go back to normal, I’ll be able to take things I’ve learned from this… the isolation has forced me to work on my mental health, so it’s been positive in that way.

How else are you passing the time? Watching any shows or movies?

You know what’s really good? It’s on Netflix, it’s called “Rhythm and Flow.” Basically Cardi B, Chance the Rapper and T.I. are looking for the next big rapper. I’ve never known much about that side of the industry, so it’s cool to see what they like, what they don’t like, and obviously it’s funny to watch people **** up.

Jojo Rabbit” is a great movie that’s out right now. I also watched a documentary on Netflix called “Unstoppable.” That one was really good. It’s about the surfer [Bethany Hamilton] who lost her arm in a shark attack. There was a movie that came out a decade ago, but it was more stylized. It’s cool to see the behind-the-scenes. I find that stuff really inspiring and motivating.

Any other new hobbies?

I know how to yodel and I used to do it a bunch when I was younger. I haven’t done it in years, but I started doing it again. I used to know this whole song that I’ve been relearning, and my roommate plays the guitar so we were going to do a video where he plays the guitar and I’m yodeling!

You mentioned some positives of the stay-at-home situation, having more time to focus on healthy training habits and some time to focus on your mental health. Are there any other silver linings you see in the situation?

The biggest thing I’ve noticed is I’ve talked to my family recently more than I have in the last year. I feel really close with them now, even though I’m not seeing them. It’s also great to reconnect with old parts of myself like the yodeling and gymnastics. I love writing, and I’ve been writing and journaling a lot more, too. I’m learning how to identify with more than just being a climber.

View this post on Instagram

Singer/yodeler: Molly Mitchell Guitar: Adam Heaton Song from Joanna Allen @adidas @adidasterrex @fiveten_official #hometeam

A post shared by Molly Mitchell (@molly.mitchell) on

Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way you’ll see your lifestyle or career moving forward?

In the past, I felt like I wasn’t keeping up with training because I’d see people doing multiple sessions a day, going really hard, and I’d be like ‘Crap, I’m not doing as much.’ So it’s been eye-opening, because during this time I keep going back to training after a couple days expecting to be really weak and suck, and I’ve actually made gains.

So, I’ve learned that taking more time to myself and doing things that make me happy outside of climbing, and resting, is actually important and can help my climbing. I’m also going to try to stay connected with my family. Everything can change in an instant, and it’s really important to me that the people that I love know that I love them.

What’s the #1 thing you’re most looking forward to when this is all over?

Molly Mitchell going for a mono.
Molly Mitchell. Photo: Jeff Rueppel.

The obvious answer is climbing… but I’m just excited to go outside and adventure. Something this has made me think about… sometimes you’ll be working on a project one day, and you don’t make progress or you regress … we take those days for granted, those days when nothing happened towards our goal. But we still got to get outside. I miss those days. Even when things are bad, you can come back and reflect and take the positive.

I’m really hard on myself in general, and this has given me perspective. Now I’m trying to look at climbing not as a means to an end, only working on a route to send it, but instead as an opportunity to have fun and enjoy being outside.

Owen Clarke is a columnist for Rock and Ice magazine.Owen Clarke, 22, is a writer and climber from Alabama. He is waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic in his parents’ house, subsisting off of Hormel Chili with Beans and triple sec, trying to learn Arabic from a 20-year-old textbook he bought online, watching anime and doing pull-ups. Follow him on Instagram at @opops13.

Also Read John Long’s Favorite 5.10: East Buttress, El Cap // Yosemite, California

The COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into upheaval this spring, and climbing was thrown for a loop along with everything else. Our sport’s popularity was on the rise, the Olympics were on the horizon and now it’s all come to a halt (although things aren’t all bad). In some ways, COVID-19 has served as an equalizer. No matter who you are, how hard you climb, how much you have in the bank or where you live, most likely you’re stuck at home, away from the rock just like the rest of us. This is true for gumbies, trad dads, weekend warriors, and pro climbers alike. We’re all in this together. In Away from the Wall, I’m talking with pro climbers to get the lowdown on their experience isolating: how they’re spending their time, how it has affected them, and any advice they can offer other climbers, whether tips on training, diet or simply staying sane in a life without climbing.

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