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Snapshot: Isabelle Faus

Lifelong learner can teach us all.

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For Isabelle Faus, success arose from trouble. About two years ago, she strained a finger, and a week later her shoulder seized. Neither injury turned out to be serious, but she was out of climbing for a month and then hesitant, monitoring pain, for two more months. She had to be patient.

Faus fighting for Primitivo )8B/V13), Val Bavona, Switzerland. Photo: Hannes Kutza.

By spring of 2018, she had recovered and was psyched: climbing hard and getting things done. The ensuing year and a half have been her best ever. In 2019 alone, as of the end of summer, she has sent her proudest line, Memory is Parallax (V14) in Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as five V13s, four V12s and five V11s.

The boost, says Faus, 26, of Coal Creek, Colorado, was from learning to pay attention to proper rest. “[W]e run ourselves really hard,” she says, “and especially if you climb outside all the time and you’re constantly trying to go at 100 percent, you’re beating yourself up.”

She learned to recover better and to climb when she felt good and was ready, not when tired, “just to go.”

“You can be too wanting-to-do-everything to actually do it.”

Faus has as of this writing done 60 V11s, a number as impressive in its way as anything else, 38 V12s, 21 V13s, and three V14s.

[Also Read Kim Reynolds: What I’ve Learned]

We spoke to her as she dashed between house-cleaning jobs, preparatory to returning to South Africa with Chad Greedy. The two live in the mountains with bouldering in every direction, and host many friends, in the house or camped in the driveway. Visitors lately included Ashima Shiraishi of the United States, Daisuke Ichimiya from Japan, and Giuliano Cameroni of Switzerland.

Q&A with Isabelle Faus

You have many visitors at your place. Do you do big group dinners?

[Laughs] I kind of feel like the big dinner thing gets old for people, waiting for everybody. … I make waffles every Saturday for whoever’s around.

You grew up climbing in Chicago, starting when?

I was 10. [Laughs] I definitely could do more pull-ups then.

I’ve been basically the same size since freshman year of high school. … Fresh out of high school, I was a little bit heavier than I am now.

Most people are the opposite.

I’ve never been too worried about the number on the scale. … Even when I was 10 or 15 pounds heavier, I was never even chubby. I just basically had more of a booty. Yeah. I sometimes miss my booty.

What have been stages in your climbing life?

I learn more and more. I wasn’t the kind of climber who was just really good from the start.

I climbed a V11 [Chablanke] when I was 16, then didn’t do a V12 until I was 20. I was always pretty strong, but kind of slowly progressed versus hitting a peak and then burning out or slowing down.

What’s the next stage?

Keep climbing, keep at it.

At some point I have to figure out something to do with my life. I’ve climbed a bunch of hard things. I haven’t been so successful ever with sponsorship. Maybe it was a blessing. I’ve built a really good relationship with my climbing because it’s not about doing it for other people. … I’m totally happy with where I am. I think I’ve had more opportunities not being tied to that. It made me be more creative, like, If I want to do this, I have to figure out how to do it.

Everything that’s bad has put me where I am, too .… We were really poor for a long time, and my dad wasn’t really around.

You are individualistic. You didn’t want to be in high school, you left. Were you always unafraid to go your own way?

I actually really did want to go to high school, I spent a whole summer going to this charter school trying to get into one. … My neighborhood schools were really bad. To go to a decent school, you have to go to a charter school, and they wouldn’t let me in. … So I went to Chattanooga to climb with my friend Kasia [Pietras].

My family was always super different. … We moved a lot. I was always the new kid. I just really wanted to do certain things, and I didn’t really care about doing the normal thing because my life was not normal.

I did go to college, to Hampshire College for three semesters.  … [But] I had this other passion, climbing.

Are you climbing harder than you ever dreamed? Do you think you can climb harder?

Yes, I think I can climb harder! And yes, climbing way harder than I ever dreamed.

I try hard and care a lot.


— Memory is Parallax (V14). Wheel of Chaos (V14), after falling off the last move many times “and wanting to give up.” Dark Daughter (V13), FA. All RMNP, Colorado.

— Amandla (V14). First woman to climb it; fifth woman to climb the grade. Dreadnoughtus (V12 or 13), FA, unrepeated. Both Rocklands, South Africa.

— Primitivo (V13). Val Bavona, Switzerland, in the “hardest fight of my life.”

— The Altruist (V12). Flatirons, Colorado, highball. 

This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 260 (November 2019).

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