While some of us are slowly returning to climbing, COVID-19 is still keeping many of us off the rock, pros and average joes alike. We’re all having to find ways to cope. For Week 5 of “Away from the Wall,” I talked with Swiss multipitch climber Nina Caprez. Though the 33-year-old has led sport routes up to 8c+ (5.14c), perhaps most impressive is the array of brutally hard big walls she’s tackled. Her resume includes ground-up sends of Unendliche Geschichte (420m/1400ft) and Silbergeier (200m/650ft), both 5.14a, in the Austrian Rätikon, and a redpoint of all pitches on the 1,640-foot Orbayu (5.14b), in the Spanish Picos de Europa, among nearly a dozen big wall lines in the 5.13c to 5.14a range.
[Also Read Away From The Wall: Will Gadd]
Caprez, who was climbing in the south of France in early March when COVID-19 became a full-blown international crisis, initially decided to try to isolate by staying camped out in the woods with her climbing buddies. After five days, however, they realized the coronavirus situation was dragging on, and would likely continue for some time, and bailed. She is now isolating at her boyfriend’s house in the mountains in Les Belleville, near the Italian border, along with some friends.
Q&A with Nina Caprez
How has training at home been for you?
We installed some climbing holds in our house, and we have a hangboard and some rings. We also found a really tiny boulder just below the house. In normal circumstances we’d never imagine climbing on it. It’s only maybe 2 meters high, but right now it’s so much fun. The problems are pretty difficult, the easiest is maybe 7A (V7) and the hardest 7C (V9), so it still feels like you’re a climber. I’m also running almost every day, and I love running. It keeps me fit, so staying in shape hasn’t been a big issue.
Do you think you’ve been able to maintain your strength?
I think I’ll be weaker, but my mindset is really different, which is what matters most to me. I see the sport of climbing differently now. I feel it’s way more present to me, as a gift. That’s a big positive.
So how has your perspective changed?
Well, you really appreciate the life you had before. We had so much freedom to move, climb, go wherever we wanted. It was a crazy, free life. It’s different now. [COVID-19] actually happened at a really important moment in my life. I’m a little bit older, performance isn’t as important to me anymore. So I think this experience has helped me into that period of life, made me wiser, a bit more relaxed.
Do you think your lifestyle or career as a climber will change in the future then, as a result?
Definitely, but mostly my attitude toward climbing will change, I think. I want my climbing to be more beautiful, deeper, more poetic maybe.
Do you mean less focused on hard sends, then? More focused on the experience?
No, I think hard climbing isn’t the problem. I’ll always love hard climbing and want to climb hard lines. I just want to be more grateful, to see [climbing] more as a gift, all of the time. Like…. allllll of the time (laughs).
How are you handling the isolation mentally? Has it been tough being inside, being away from everyone?
We’re really privileged up here in the mountains. We’re at the end of the road, mountains and forest all around. There’s six people here too, so it’s entertaining. There’s always energy, different things to do. For my boyfriend and I it’s been a hardcore test… we’ve only been dating since November. So it was really healthy for both of us to settle down for a while. I’ve never had that opportunity before with boyfriends or partners, because I’m traveling so much. It’s helped our relationship. You really have to face things and resolve problems together, you can’t escape to the wall. So now I think we’re really solid. It seems like no matter what we do after this confinement it will be fine. The last 15 years I’ve always been moving, always traveling, always in excitement and adventures. Settling down, having a more regular life has been good.
Have you picked up any new hobbies? How are you passing the time?
We’ve had a couple movie nights. We watched “Inception,” and have been watching speeches from our president, Emmanuel Macron. We’ve been doing a lot of cooking, cleaning… We’re also playing a really fun strategy board game called Citadels. The object is to build a citadel, and every round you choose a different personality or character, and depending on your character’s strategy you build your citadel. I’m reading three different books, one in English, one in French and one in German. One is about ice baths, because we built our own bath in the river nearby, so I’ve been very interested in reading about that.
What about cooking? Made anything interesting?
We have a bread machine, so we’ve been really creative with different breads. I got really into cooking plants from nature, so we had a bunch of nettle soups. Today I’m making nettle curry. We’ve made jams, wild salad. It’s cool to see what you can take from nature.
What’s the first thing you’ll do when lockdown is over?
Multipitch climbing! I just want to run up seven or eight pitches. The first spot I want to climb is probably the Rätikon, or maybe Verdon Gorge. Cool limestone multipitch routes are what I’m dreaming about.
What about outside of climbing?
Nope, not really…… wait! Restaurants. I do miss restaurants.
How do you see the world changing as a result of COVID?
I think it will take a long time to go back to normal. I do think our society will change a lot. I think people will start to ask themselves, “Is it really true that we always need to do more and more, to go faster and faster?” I think we will step back, hopefully, from this habit of overconsumption. I do think people go back to a way of thinking where maybe it’s good if you have your own garden, where you are more self-sufficient.
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 The Grapes of Whatever | Ascent 2013
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.