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Snapshot: Matt Gentile, Roof Hunter

Matt Gentile mines gems in Arizona.

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When Matt Gentile, then 20, moved from Rhode Island to Sedona, Arizona, and visited Flagstaff, he couldn’t do the first move on the famous V6 Anorexic on the limestone of Priest Draw.

A new climber and boulderer, he watched a local, Sam Davis, roofclimbing effortlessly through precision body positioning and footwork, and thought, Man, that is just the coolest. Gentile moved to Flag two weeks later.

Seven years ago, he learned another big one: to look beyond bouldering as something for which you simply bring shoes and a crash pad. Another local, Sam Tingey, was a mentor.

“Not only was he a much better climber than I was,” Gentile says, “but he had the resources—the pads, the cams—and knew about placing directionals to clean and get under [roofs]. I didn’t know how to do any of that. He was willing to share that info with me.”

Matt Gentile. Photo by Nick Quayle.

Their first joint project was the Renegade Roof, on which they employed ladders and a toprope. Gentile, 32, now routinely brings those as well as “an army” of pads, a harness, a Grigri, brushes, a crowbar and aid hooks. In what he calls roof hunting, he scours the area’s Hinterlands for tall, stunning boulder problems.

The leader in bouldering development in Northern Arizona, he has established a widespread 150-plus problems, some as low as 12 feet but many in the 20- and 25-, even 30- to 40-foot, range.

Gentile is the sales manager at Babbitt’s Backcountry Outfitters and lives near Priest Draw with his girlfriend, Casey Ries, also a climber.

Q&A with Matt Gentile

Where besides Priest Draw do you climb?

Off Wood Mountain Road are a dozen areas with the same kind of limestone, these really big satellite roofs that we’ve been finding or developing the last eight or nine years. They create really long power-endurance problems.

At the Choss Roof, there used to be three problems. Now there’s 25, and you can go link them. They all kind of split and connect, crisscross. … The holds go back for about 30 feet under the roof.

Where do you explore?

I spend just as much time hiking as climbing. I go on Google Maps a lot. I can find the same limestone layer as Priest Draw. There are so many different canyons and overlooks—all those draws that lead into those canyons cut through that rock. I’ll look at that next drainage and go where the shadows are. … The hiking can be atrocious, trying to get into the right layer. Sometimes what you’re looking for is right underneath you, and you don’t know it.

By the time you climb something, how many days spent out there?

Oh, a lot. I put a problem on a new roof yesterday, and I’d been out there five times. You spend a lot of time brushing it, getting it ready.

Sometimes we spend four days hiking out in the area before finally finding [a problem].

You spend days cleaning, then sometimes 15 days to do the project.

What sort of difficulty?

I’m looking for something where I’m going to get a lot of climbing out of it.

In the last two years, the roofs are getting bigger, the grades are getting harder. I’m not too focused on becoming just a better, stronger climber … I always want to do the big, inspiring lines, and in doing that am naturally finding the harder grades.

What is the danger factor?

Generally [here] with the big roofs, the cruxes are below, back where you’d fall from 15 or 20 feet. I’ve found that they work great as highballs. I’m not looking to do a hard crux way up high. With a top headwall, like 25 feet, I’ll have it really wired. I’ve rehearsed it on a rope a dozen times, maybe more.

What’s in your mind?

When I hit the point of no return, where you can’t bail but have to go higher, I’m usually pretty relaxed but focused.

Being 100 percent focused is essential to highballs. If I’m not—if I’m having an off day, or my mind is all over the place, or I’m a little tired—I’ll come back another day. I don’t usually feel much pressure to do these things [laughs]. No one is coming out to climb them … I can wait till the time is right.

This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue #251 (July 2018).

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