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Snapshot: Matty Hong – Raised on Rifle

Matty Hong has climbing in his blood.

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

In 2015, Steve Hong rapped a 30-meter line in the 30-degree overhanging Wicked Cave in Rifle, Colorado. Bad, spaced-out holds at the start led to a long string of slopers and pinches, then another boulder problem to finish. It seemed too hard, but he let his son Matty look.

“I guess I saw sequences that he didn’t, or I just thought it was more possible,” Matty says. Matty wanted to climb the line, but had never placed a bolt. He persuaded his dad to teach him. A leading first ascensionist throughout the United States for decades, Steve agreed, but was worried.

“He actually put the anchors in for me,” says Matty, who as a boy often played on the riverbanks at Rifle with his brother, Alex, while their parents climbed.

Matty completed the route at 5.14c and named it La Cucaracha. Now Steve, 62, whose climbs Matty grew up repeating, is projecting his son’s route.

In the past year, Matty, now 26, has jumped to a new level. He ticked his first 5.15a, Chris Sharma’s Papichulo, in 2016, and this year in Spain sent two more, reinforcing his role as one of the top American sport climbers. A passionate photographer and filmmaker, he took the now famous picture of a half-smiling, half-crying Margo Hayes after she completed La Rambla (9a+/5.15a) in February. He had climbed it just the day before she did.

Matty Hong. Photo: Greg Mionske.
Matty Hong. Photo: Greg Mionske.

Q&A with Matty Hong

When were you able to climb on par with your dad?

I think I was 17. We were working Stockboy’s Revenge [Rifle], which is 5.14b. That was the first time we had the same project, where I would belay him, then he would come down and belay me. That was cool. I think it was really cool for him, too. He was better until I was 16 or 17, then we climbed together for a season, then I started to move past him. He’s always supported me, and he still goes on trips with me.

Was there a turning point in your climbing career?

Living in Fear, which is 5.13d, was probably when I started to really focus. I remember getting on it for the first time and not being able to get to the top. I had a lot of doubt and thought it was too hard. I ended dup doing it in about five tries, which was fast for that route. I got a lot of encouragement from people after that. They were impressed, and i was also impressed because I didn’t think I could do it.

What role does bouldering play in your climbing?

I didn’t used to climb a lot of boulders. Every trip I went on was sport-climbing only. I would climb in Rifle all summer. Then I hit a barrier at 5.14b-ish and realized I couldn’t get any better unless I started bouldering.

I had a couple of seasons when I just bouldered mainly. When I went back to sport climbing, I could push it further.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My biggest weakness is my training ethic. I just don’t train as hard as the other guys and girls do. When I go to the gym I take it seriously, but other climbers are training twice a day, six to seven days a week. I don’t find that very fun, and climbing’s always been something I do for fun. To this day if I go to the gym and I’m not having a good time, I’ll leave. So that’s something I could work on. If I really want to improve, that’s what I need to do.

My strength is that I havea good head. I don’t really get nervous. I haven’t had a mental block yet, where I fall on the same move for years. Each time I get on a climb I’m pretty relaxed.

How did you discover filmmaking?

I was encouraged by my parents to go to school. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after high school. I did a gap year, lived in a van, and just went climbing. I started studying physiology. I was taking chemistry and biology classes and wasn’t doing that well in them. I didn’t see myself with my head in a book. I’d started taking photos when I was climbing, and I learned CU had a good film program. I took one class and ended up totally hooked.

What’s in your future?

My top goal right now is to climb 5.15b. A little further, I can see myself doing competitions. I’d like to do the lead World Cup circuit once. Beyond that, I just joined the North Face this year, which opens up a lot of opportunities. I’d like to bolt something in an obscure location, out of the country. I’d like to do more adventure climbing.

Best Hits

  • Climbed three 5.15a’s in a year, in Spain:
    • Papichulu, in Oliana, 2016
    • La Rambla,, Siurana, 2017
    • Joe Mama, Oliana, 2017
  • Seven FAs, all 5.14, including:
    • Bad Girls Club (5.14d), Rifle, 2011
    • Planet Garbage (5.14d), Rifle, 2014
    • Apple Juice Flood (5.14c), Red River Gorge, 2016
    • Stocking Stuffer (5.14d), Rifle, 2017
  • Sent two 5.14d’s in two days:
    • Shadowboxing, Rifle, 2016
    • Kryptonite, Rifle, 2016
  • Bouldered Warrior Up (V15) at Mt. Evans, CO, 2012
  • Has sent about 15 V14s

Also read Steve Hong: What I’ve Learned