Paige Claassen: “Every Attempt is a Success if I Learn Something”
After her recent send of Kryptonite, Rock and Ice caught up with Paige Claassen to learn more about the mindset and process that has made her one of the best American sport climbers of the past decade.
When she sent Necessary Evil (5.14c) in 2018 after only an hour of training every day and a few weeks at the crag, Paige Claassen showed that she can do almost anything she sets her mind to. Having just sent Kryptonite (5.14d) after the Coronavirus lockdown, nothing has changed: Claassen’s dedication and her mental approach to climbing allow her to take on routes of any kind, from face climbing to steep overhangs.
When Claassen started working on Kryptonite, she didn’t expect to send it, although it was always a goal she had in the back of her mind. Initially, she was just happy to have a place to climb that “most definitely offers solitude” during the pandemic.
Claassen loves “iconic routes with history,” and as the first 5.14d in America, Kryptonite definitely fits the bill. It also aligns with her personal history: Tommy Caldwell put up the route with his dad, Mike, who was one of Claassen’s climbing coaches when she was a kid. It was bolted in 1999—the year she started climbing.
“It was just kind of cool to see things come full circle,” she said.
Claassen doesn’t have an accomplishment she is most proud of; for now, it’s probably Kryptonite, but soon it will likely be her next project. Her dad used to joke that whatever route she’s working on at the moment is her favorite route.
[Also Watch VIDEO: Paige Claassen Sends Groove Train (5.14b), One of Australia’s Most Iconic Sport Climbs]
When considering her past climbs, the ones that taught her the most are the most memorable and valuable to her. Odin’s Eye (5.14c) in Flatanger, Norway, challenged Claassen with its steepness and power. She had to use knee bars and refine unfamiliar techniques such as toe hooking.
“It was very different from my typical style and so it really forced me to change my training and to become a better climber,” she said.
This focus on learning filters down to each attempt when she is working a route and helps her to not get frustrated. No new piece of knowledge on a climb is too small to be inconsequential.
“Every attempt is a success if I learn something,” she said. “Normally it’s super subtle and that can give you confidence the next time you try because you can apply what you learned from the previous try.”
Although she has branched out during her career, as with Odin’s Eye, her favorite style remains technical face climbing. Such routes tend to have less definitive cruxes, and—as there are often not great footholds—there is a real possibility of slipping anywhere. This sustained style creates a mental challenge that pushes Claassen to trust her body and believe in herself.
“I think confidence plays a big role in all types of climbing, but when you’re trying to send at your limit, there can’t be any doubts in your head,” she said.
The mental component of climbing is her favorite part. To access that headspace, Claassen takes deep, slow breaths that are audible. The sound helps her calm her mind.
“I find that when we’re projecting, our bodies already know what to do. We’ve rehearsed those moves so many times, so we just have to turn our minds off so that we’re not doubting ourselves because that’s typically our biggest obstacle,” said Claassen.
So what’s next for Claassen? Right now, things beyond climbing. Not only does the pandemic make planning difficult, but other things seem more important to her, she explained. She’d like to focus on using her privilege to help climbers who have been underrepresented in the sport and work with the brands she partners with to make climbing more accepting.
“It’s taken a long time for us to open our eyes and ears to the problems that underrepresented climbers face and to the obstacles that they face,” she said. “Our attention is finally focused there and so I think it’s really important to keep that attention alert.”
Claassen believes that mission goes hand-in-hand with climbing; it will take us all being out at the crag, learning from one another, and being open to evaluating ourselves.
And if a climbing goal pops up, of course she will be ready.