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Lisa Hathaway: What I’ve Learned

51, wildlife biologist, musician, former president of Friends of Indian Creek, first ascentionist, Moab, Utah

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Lisa Hathaway. Photo: Duane Raleigh.
Lisa Hathaway. Photo: Duane Raleigh.

I went to Yarmouth High School in Yarmouth, Maine. I played basketball and field hockey. I also figure skated from age 10 or 11 until I was a senior.

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From team sports I felt a greater sense of purpose and motivation, which sometimes comes in handy, knowing that it’s not all about you. Sometimes you’re the person who gets the glory moment, sometimes you cheer on the person who gets the glory moment.

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It can relate to climbing in the sense that it doesn’t always have to be about your goals and aspirations, but that you can achieve more as a team, especially on multi-pitch climbs or in putting up routes.

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In high school I was super into wanting to play college basketball possibly in a D1 or D2 school. As a senior I had a serious knee injury … and then I couldn’t do that. It also took a lot of confidence away because you’re not the same physical person you were, and you’re not going to get that back.

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I could still participate [in other sports] at a D3 college. That’s when I started running track and doing other things. If I had gone to Boston University or somewhere to play basketball I don’t think I would have been exposed to climbing. Being at Colby [College], I met people who were doing those things. [The injury] seemed like a loss for a long time, but in hindsight I’m sort of grateful, because otherwise I would never have been exposed to climbing, moved to Moab, and created a lifestyle that would accommodate it.

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After college, in 1989, I came out to Moab for a volunteer position with the Park Service and met people who were climbers, and they taught me the rudiments of desert climbing. I met Sonja Paspal. There were a lot of female climbers who were climbing at a high or higher level with the guys. She was easily holding her own with the tempo of the day. So to me it was totally normal to climb on par with the males and be equally responsible for putting up routes.

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I honestly don’t know how many FAs I have been part of [dozens from 5.6 to 5.13]. Especially in the early days, it was like: There are all these cracks, so why wouldn’t you climb one that hasn’t been done?

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My work is wildlife surveys: spotted-owl, peregrine falcons and eagles, mostly birds of prey. We should respect how important connected wild lands are, especially in terms of recreation and climbing. If a species requires a mile of cliffs seasonally to reproduce, then we should just take ourselves elsewhere.

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We all have roles that we play in the climbing community, and as you get a little older and less “me-me,” there comes a time when you should give some of your time and energy to preservation and maintenance and access. They interlink.

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In climbing, I’ve learned you can go away and come back mentally and physically stronger. When you’re a little younger, there can be a real issue about getting injured and not taking time off. There’s a lot to be gained from having periods of time off climbing or doing other kinds of climbing, maybe with your big project in the back of your mind. It’s O.K. to step away. Don’t hurt yourself more just because you want to send. It’ll still be there next week or next year.

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There’s a lot to learn from watching other climbers who may not even climb as hard as you, just because they understand movement. I’ve learned something from someone who climbed V3 that made the difference on my project.

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Being [a guitarist and vocalist] in a band plays into the whole notion of teamwork. If people don’t work together, the whole thing collapses.


This article originally appeared in Rock and Ice issue 246 (November 2017).


Also read Angie Payne: What I’ve Learned