On the Cover: David Wright LeWinter
Cover Date: November 30th, 2014
An Interview with David Wright LeWinter
Thank you for chatting with us, David. Our readers are excited to learn about your climbing stories!
Editor: Where did you see your first climb that inspired you? How old were you when you developed a serious interest in climbing? Who was your first climbing instructor?
David Wright LeWinter: So, in 1980 at age 17, I moved to Squaw Valley, CA. That winter, a lot of guys I hung-out with talked about climbing and I got curious. It was in that spring after my first winter in Squaw, I was introduced to a guy who I became good friends with “Steve McKinney.” Steve was the best, an amazing athlete and very generous guy and always fun to be with. So it was Steve who introduced me to rock climbing.
Stevie took me up to the beginner’s crag “School Rock” at Donner Summit, for my first time and it was on after that. My first real teacher though, the guy who took me by the hand and taught me a great deal of the craft of rock climbing was Dick “Skippy” Richardson.
Editor: How do you decide where you want to climb? Do you prefer a certain rock type, or location, grade, for example?
David Wright LeWinter: Well, for me it’s time and funding A.K.A “Pleasure Tickets” those are important factors for me. Another important factor is location, I love all types of rock as long as the quality is good. One the best things about climbing for me, is traveling all over to various locations. Some areas are so amazing, not only for the climbing, but the unique varieties of culture, topography and geographical environment. My favorite is Joshua tree monument down in the Mojave, place just blows my mind.
The place is so beautiful and rich on so many levels for me. I’ve had some of
my best times in life and in climbing there.
Editor: Every climber has a couple of all-time-favorite routes that they love to climb. Can you share with us what the grades were, the quality of the rock and where you climbed?
David Wright LeWinter: Sheez, not sure what to say, I’ve been lucky to enjoy a few fun ones:
Pingora Peaks Northeast Face 5.8 in the Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range Wyoming, is an amazing 12-pitch classic and is long and fully sustained the whole way. Wind River is one of the best areas in the US in my opinion.
High Exposure 5.6, in the Gunks upstate New York. Holy Cow, this route is so crazy, crazy cool, unbelievable!
War of the Walls 5.10c/d at Calaveras Domes. With a 5.9 corner on the 5th pitch that’s so cool. The areas routes are excellent and all super high quality granite.
Fairest of All 5.10c on Fairview Dome in Tuolumne Meadows. Love the meadows and that route, fun but scary.
The Vector at 5.11c, Walk on the Wild Side 5.8 and Figures on a Landscape 5.10b in Joshua tree, are really good and the Vector was a high point in climbing for me.
Dead Larry’s Pillar 5.10, East face Left side Mt. Sill in the High Sierra. Mike Graber route, and is top quality and challenging in every way. I’ll tell you one thing that I truly feel, that it doesn’t matter how good the area is or the routes are, having the right partners have make the difference.
Editor: I agree with that, and so true. Who were your climbing icons that either taught you or inspired you as you were growing up?
David Wright LeWinter: Icons, wow, there are so many. I watch others who I so admire, and I think to myself: man, that guy is so awesome, just appreciating their efforts and abilities, skill set and philosophical approaches: John Bacher, Tobin Sorenson, Bridwell, Kim Schmitz, Scott Cosgrove, Jeff Lowe, Al Rouse, Pat Ament, Kurt Smith, Gary “The Bullet” Allen, John Roskelley, Barry Blanchard, Walter Bonatti, Lionel Terray, Dave Shultz, Ron Kauk, Paul Crawford, Randy Leavitt and Tony Yaniro.
All these guys inspired me, some directly mostly indirectly, but all by their dedication and love for climbing, their style and for many, their colorful antics that is kinda special to climbers.
Here is the coolest thing for me: I was able to start climbing and bear witness to one of climbing’s most influential periods. You see at that time, Squaw Valley and Tahoe City were both winter homes to many of California’s Yosemite
elite “The Stone Masters.” It was in those days, I made close friendships with a few of the guys I idolized, i.e. Bridwell etc. I think the biggest influences for me came from the very close partnerships I had with guys who lived in Tahoe, and who took me and showed me the craft of rock climbing.
One of those very special ones was: Dick “Skippy” Richardson, an
amazing climber specializing on bold slab route and putting classic first
ascents. Skippy dedication to developing areas like Calaveras, Domeland
Wilderness, Christmas Tree Pass and many others as is shown by his legacy of FA’s. Skippy broke me in to climbing down at Calaveras Domes, pushing me to try hard. Skippy also loved to sandbag and repeatedly he would sandbag every time he threw me up on a route. The terms “It’s only 10a” and “Keep climbing the bolts 10 feet away” were regular jokes after a while, and began to signify it was about to get pretty scary. I really had a hard time believing in myself, Skippy would insist that I had more ability then I knew, and he used that to justify pushing me harder.
Peter Minks: Peter was one of Britain’s alpine legends, nerves of steel and possessing amazing intuition in all aspects of climbing i.e. From big-walls, ice and rock, Pete mastered them all. Pete was like a dad to me and we spent years climbing together, always encouraging me to venture beyond the comfort of 7-11 and the local crag. Peter had the customs of climbing down from the British approach, which consisted of in the morning pot tea w/eggy bread and then a long day of routes followed with pints of ale.
Paul “Wally” Teare: This is a guy who has super sharp wit, power, ambition and skill that is unreal. He is the kind of climber you choose for anything, summer or winter, a day at the crags, an Everest expedition or months in the Southern Sierra or Canadian Rookies. Endless talent and tenacity and he also happened to be one of the funniest guys you’ll ever hang with. Paul showed me skills, from winter wilderness travel, ice climbing, high mountain rock climbing and where the best Martinis can be found on Route 395, driving south, “Tiger Bar June Lakes.”
But I have to say when it comes to rock climbing aside Skippy, the guy I spent a lot of time climbing with and got so many skills from, who has the most beautiful style of free-climbing is Ariza. Kenny’s love for rock climbing has been expressed by the legacy of classic first ascents he’s left in his wake. Kenny’s "Go for it" commitment was awesome. Kenny has amazing style and technique; he not only showed me amazing footwork on steep faces, but he also opened my eyes to the excitement and stoke of first ascent climbing.
With all the experiences I’ve had in climbing, probably one of the coolest has been, to witness the rise of one of the world’s most talented climber’s David Allfrey. I got to spend a little time while he was at UCSC and was lucky enough to rope up together on a few occasions, one of the nicest people I have ever met.
I have to say that nowadays the man who teaches me, influences and inspires me in so many ways, is my very close friend Hansi Standteiner. An extremely humble man, Hansi has a level of talent that is matched by his ability to influence others, with a intuitive nature that great teachers possess. This summer I had the fortune to watch over some weeks and hold the rope the day Hansi sent one of his best projects coming in over 12+, man, that was super cool.
Editor: I bet! What a wonderful bond between two friends! You're certainly blessed to have so many great teachers. What important lessons/skills did you
learn from them that you still use today?
David Wright LeWinter: One of things I really love, watching other people and how they work out climbs or any kind of problem for that matter, their processes, style and approaches. The things that I learned and admire didn’t come easy; I’m not the smartest guy by any means. What these things are, I feel are the qualities and attributes these people displayed. What I’m trying to learn is not only visual; those things might be easier for me as I’m a visual learner.
For me it’s the internal or perceptual qualities, things like: dedication, tenacity, fortitude, trust, compassion, ethics, self-acceptance, partnership, and the strong trust in intuition. What’s happening is the belief inside myself, and for me the idea that the strength of self-acceptance lies outside the expectation of a desired result, that what did I get done, or any feeling of entitlement to an outcome just because I try hard. I feel that self-acceptance is the gift for hard work and perseverance, and that there is no other payoff then knowing I gave it my best, detached from the outcome. Life for me is an ongoing process of internal development.
Editor: Well put, indeed. How do you feel about climbing gyms as opposed to climbing outdoors where your connection to nature is more vibrant, tangible and actively spiritual?
David Wright LeWinter: I think gyms are great and that with every new change there is a period of, how shall I put it, a homeostasis. I guess one thing I have seen change, is the reference to climbing, changing from a craft to a sport, I watched climbing hold the strictest standards and ethics, and I watched how those standards and ethics evolve and morph.
I don’t know if gyms have aided in that change in perception, maybe so. One thing I still get confused about is this term that has sprouted up from somewhere, and that is the term “Trad Climbing” but hey, I know very little. As far as spirituality goes; my connection with spirituality lies outside synthetic knowledge and develops from an experiential and internal process, mainly being influenced by how I witness nature and natural laws.
Editor: Great answer: Nature and spirituality are truly intertwined in depth and their ability to teach quietly. Climbing makes us display qualities that are also useful in our daily life, such as patience, a laser sharp intuition, humility as well as develop an understanding as to where and how you fit into the greater scheme of things, a strong connection to nature and her unspoken language. What gifts has climbing blessed you with?
David Wright LeWinter: This is what comes to mind, courage and the power of time. I am not a courageous type by any means, not like many of my friends. The fact is that for many years I avoided any real challenges in my life because I carried some deep emotional wounds. These wounds came from my childhood experiences with having severe dyslexia and an educational system ill-equipped in dealing with severe learning disabilities.
I those days kids like me were relegated to confines of a portable classroom far away from the mainstream population in school. They lumped us all in one room; we consisted of Mentally retarded, Autistic, Dyslexic, mentally challenged and emotionally disturbed. Our teachers were the burnouts, and alcoholics that the system couldn’t fire, or they were close enough to retire that they just gave them to us, not good. I remember watching an autistic boy get beaten so badly by a teacher that he had to go to the hospital, because he was having a panic attack.
School was like that for many years and because of that incident and many others like it that, which just drilled me emotionally; I couldn’t wait to drop out of school. That was in the 7th grade with a 5th grade education at best. I didn’t develop academically at all, just playing it safe working, skiing and climbing. Periodically over the last 20 years or so, this inner voice would cry out for me to get an education, and my response was “Sure” sarcastically. Then finally in the spring of 2012, I decided to challenge myself, stop playing it safe and take on my biggest personal fear.
The one that said I was stupid, broken and unable to learn. So, with the encouragement of a local retired schoolteacher, I showed up at my local community college “Cabrillo” with my 5th grade education, my dyslexia and my tremendous fear and began the process. I went through a 3-month re-entry program and six months later was taking mainstream college courses.
Today I’m an honor student with a 3.9 GPA, I take 16 units a semester and I’m looking to transfer to Columbia University School of Psychology in New York. I’m the lecturer at Cabrillo three times a semester in the health sciences program, as an undergrad, and counsel students who are dealing with emotional challenges of daily life.
I truly believe that my climbing experiences and my mom who pulled off some amazing things as a single parent, and others who taught and inspired me, all showed me how to harness courage and go for it.
Editor: That is so inspiring and truly honorable. Thank you for sharing that with our readers. I'm positive that there are readers out there who will pick up on your inner strength and courage, and thus improve their lives by leaps and bounds.
Okay, so are there specific locations or nations where you’d love to go climbing?
David Wright LeWinter: I’m easy and I love climbing, and travel and will go anywhere, but with the winter season upon us I look forwards to doing some ice climbing in Colorado and Montana.
Editor: Did you enjoy watching Valley Uprising? What are your thoughts on the film?
David Wright LeWinter: Okay, truthfully I really enjoyed the historical accounts of Harding and Robbins, truly amazing and things I didn’t know. But after spending 4 months in Patagonia with Bridwell and him telling me so much valley history, and telling me that Sacherer had been his biggest influence, I got a little confused.
I spent most of the 80’s and 90’s climbing valley and thought a few pieces of information relevant to the history would have been flavorful, like Bacher’s
on sight solo of the Moratorium, Cosgrove and Schultz on Sothern Belle, Peter Croft's solo of the Rostrum and the next spring Astroman. I think I would have left out the interview with Chilli on the day he punched out JB. Respecting the departed and one of our great loses, and maybe instead interviewed Chilli about the first ascent of the Widow’s Tear, which has amazing historical significance.
Editor: Thanks for sharing your climbing experiences as well as your personal story of growth and triumph with us, and we hope to do a follow up interview with you in the future, David. We’re sure you have more climbing stories to share and many people to inspire!
David Wright LeWinter: Thanks, Vera.
Interview conducted by Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
Editor of of the Facebook page: 'An Interview With'.
Editor-in-Chief of ClimbSkiBoulderMagazine.com
Interview © Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
All images © of the designated photographer and used with David's written permission.