An Interview with Will Mayo
Editor: First of all, please accept out heartiest congratulations on your Mugs Stump award (2015).
Thanks for sharing some of your valuable time with us, Will.
Editor: At what age did you develop an interest in ice climbing? Who was the person and which climbing trip that got you hooked?
Will Mayo: Growing up, my family would visit my Uncle Peter in Utah every winter to go skiing. During my freshman year in college at the University of Vermont, Uncle Pete moved to Montana. During Christmas break of that year, 1990, I went to visit Uncle Pete alone and he took me ice climbing in Hyalite Canyon near Bozeman.
I clearly remember that first time I swung an ice tool, the visceral beauty of the ice, and the uniquely satisfying quiver of the axe when it found solid purchase. From that first day of ice climbing, from that first swing of an ice axe, I have been passionate about climbing ice. It is difficult to explain, but I just felt like it was meant to be.
Editor: That's an incredible description! What and where are some of your favorite routes of all time?
Will Mayo: Lower Genesis (WI2) in Hyalite Canyon, MT because it was my first ice climb, Omega (WI5+) on Cannon Cliff, NH because it is an ethereal and beautiful classic that rarely forms making it always a rare and precious ascent (even though I have done it eight times), Le Mulot (WI6+) in Sept-Iles, QC, Canada because it is three rope-stretching 60 meter pitches of golden rivulets of water-ice perfection.
But, my favorite is The Way of Two Wills (traditional M8) because I made the first ascent with my friend Will Gadd, and our collective mentor, Jeff Lowe, joined us on the first pitch, which was Jeff’s most recent ice climb, and Jeff decided on the name.
Editor: How wonderful that Jeff joined you! How do you mentally prepare before each climb? How do you center your core, focus and steady yourself?
Will Mayo: The climbs themselves center me, bring everything into focus. I was initiated into climbing by an alpinist, and developed as a climber with staunch traditionalist friends. Thus, the peace and solitude of alpine and traditional climbing became an essential part of the ritual for me.
Over the past eight years I have delved into competition climbing and sport climbing which are social events with many distractions. I have found these environments challenging, often becoming rattled, unaccustomed to climbing amidst the chaotic static interference of crowds of people.
But, it has been a useful exercise in trying to hone my ability to turn inward and block everything else out. Honestly, I still have a major struggle with distractions in competitions and when sport climbing, but I have found that the unconscious intensity of my focus when alpine climbing is even more profound when I am alone with my partner hearing only the soothing whistle of the wind in my ear.
Editor: Well put. Who would you say are some of your ice climbing icons, who inspired you?
Will Mayo: My personal mentors were my closest partners from the Adirondacks: the late Joe Szot, Tom Yandon, and Chris Thomas. But, the most significant icon for me, and perhaps every ice climber, has been Jeff Lowe.
Jeff essentially invented modern ice climbing as well as modern mixed climbing. He would come to the Adirondacks every year, and I can still visualize his graceful manner of climbing. This grace is now manifesting itself in Jeff’s manner of dealing with his debilitating ALS-type disease, making him even more inspirational to me, and many others, than he was as a climber. Jeff Lowe was a sublime climber, and a sublime human being.
Editor: Yes, Jeff is a legend, indeed. You will attempt the unclimbed North Face of the Ogre II in Pakistan this coming summer with Josh Wharton and Stanislav Vrba. You must be thrilled! That part of the world in truly phenomenal, would you agree?
Will Mayo: I am completely thrilled, yes. It has always been a dream to go to the Karakoram. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to go with such strong partners and good friends as Josh and Stanislav.
The mountains of Pakistan are unparalleled, and I am expecting to have the experience of a lifetime.
Editor: Why did you decide on this mountain, Will?
Will Mayo: Honestly, it was Josh Wharton’s idea. Josh asked me if I was interested in going to Pakistan last spring after we made the first ascent of Scorched Granite on the West Face of Mt. Huntington in Alaska together.
I responded, “It’s not every day that one of the best all-around climbers in the country asks one to go climb one of the most compelling unclimbed alpine faces in the world. I’m in!"
Editor: Very cool! Let’s talk about your latest accomplishments. You started the climbing season in a spectacular way! You climbed the Colorado mixed-testpiece: Jedi Mind Tricks (M13). After that you established The Mustang (M14) in Vail, Colorado…was Jedi Mind Tricks always on your list?
Will Mayo: Yes, Jedi Mind Tricks has been a dream of mine since I first heard about Ryan Nelson and Jared Ogden making the first ascent in 2003. It is in a remote location for a sport mixed climb, located outside of Lake City, Colorado, requiring a two hour approach.
And, it is hard, at the time it was established, it was one of the hardest mixed climbs in the world. Few have repeated it, only Scott Muir of Scotland, Jeff Mercier of France and my friend Ryan Vachon who projected the climb over the summer and sent it earlier this fall. Ryan raved about the route, and I finally found the motivation to seek out the climb.
Editor: What was the route like?
Will Mayo: Jedi Mind Tricks is a stunning line on pocketed volcanic rock in God’s Cave, above God’s Crag, high above the Engineer’s Pass Road south of Lake City.
The setting is remarkable, like something out of Lord of the Rings (to quote Ryan), and the pocketed rock seems made for dry-tooling. None of the moves are big, no two holds are separated by more than a meter on the entire route, but it is steep and sustained. It is an engaging endurance challenge in a surreal and tranquil mountain setting.
Editor: The Mustang took 2 years to project. How was this experience? We hear it was a successful albeit a tough one. It is said that Mustang was the hardest mixed-climbing redpoint of your career. What are your thoughts?
Will Mayo: Yes, it took me two seasons to finally send The Mustang, which essentially grew out of a series of routes that I have established in The Fang amphitheater in East Vail, Colorado.
After having made the first ascents of Red Beard (M12) and The Flying Fortress (M13) I felt like all of the hard lines had been done. But, after visiting Eptigen, Switzerland two years ago and trying Robert Jasper’s masterpiece, Ironman (M14+), it dawned on my that there was potential for similar routes, ones which make the most of a cave’s difficulty by traversing the roof rather than directly surmounting it, in The Fang amphitheater.
So, I began with Superfortress (M13) which I sent last fall. Then, I set Stratofortress (M13+) and The Lightning (M13+), upping the ante with each route. Finally, I realized that these routes were building blocks of the full traverse of the roof, which became The Mustang, which involves a 30 meter traverse of the roof, 28 consecutive moves of inversions.
The Mustang is the hardest sport mixed red point for me thus far, for sure. I feel as though these series of link-ups, culminating in The Mustang, have developed my fitness tremendously, and have given me significant benefit for hard traditional mixed and alpine climbing, which has been my goal.
Editor: How very fascinating. Do you have plans to send Ironman? What attracts you about this route?
Will Mayo: Yes, I hope to be able to return to Eptigen, Switzerland to send Ironman (M14+). When I was there two years ago, I didn’t have the fitness to get it done. I was able to do all of the moves individually, but it was beyond my ability to try to link it all together.
I hope now, after having worked out all of the Vail routes, that I may have what it takes to send this monstrous power-endurance route. Ironman is perhaps the hardest mixed climb in the world, it is enticing to try my mettle against such a route.
Editor: Share with us your feelings about The Ghost (M10 trad, WI6). It seems like it was super-challenging. The Ghost kept changing shape…how surreal. What are your thoughts on this?
Will Mayo: The Ghost is phenomenal. Routes like the traditional mixed routes of The Black Wall of Mt. Evans are the types of routes that are most satisfying to me. Honestly, my other two routes on this crag, Silhouette (M9 trad, WI6+) and Shooting Star (M9 trad, WI7) were even more rewarding, though slightly less technically difficult, because they were established ground-up, on-sight, which, to me, is the gold standard of proper mixed climbing.
Yet, due to the technical difficulty of The Ghost, as well as the positions of some large loose blocks at the beginning of the route, cleaning it on rappel and working out the rather sparse gear was wise and ultimately entirely worthwhile as it yielded one of the most stunning traditional mixed pitches I have ever climbed.
Indeed, The Ghost was different each of the three times I climbed it, which seems apropos of its name. The route is named for the prominent icicle, which appears in the center of The Black Wall like a phantom. Yet, each time I returned there would be an additional icicle hanging above the last. The additional ice made for less technically difficult climbing, yet it also made the route less protectable.
In the end, I feel as though the capricious nature of the route became a celebration of all that I love about the sport: a route is never the same twice, it’s always an adventure, and there is a certain magic to the uncertainty of it all.
Editor: What was it like making the film, ‘The Skater’?
Will Mayo: It was amazing to work with Celin Serbo and the fine folks at SkySightRC. Celin really did a good job putting together some interesting aerial climbing footage as well as artistic renderings of ice thawing in reverse.
It was somewhat nerve-wracking doing the voice-over in a sound studio, it made me feel really self-conscious. But, everyone said I have a nice voice, which makes me feel a little better. I was really proud to be able to share some “outside-the-box” philosophical ideas, those of Kierkegaard, set to some cool footage. It was an honor and I think it turned out really well.
Editor: How do you feel in the big mountains? The mountains seem to have an ethereal quality to them.
Some climbers say they change and empower them spiritually.
How have the mountains affected your mind, heart and spirit?
Will Mayo: Alpine climbing is my spiritual ritual. It is though alpine climbing that I am able to reach beyond myself and somehow experience the imperceptible reaches outside of temporal concerns.
The big mountains give me balance, strip away contrivance, and provide a cathartic embrace with the cosmos that I have never known in any other setting.
Mountains allow me to find meaning in my life, I cannot seem to explain how or why, and I think, perhaps, it is because it is inexplicable that it is so profound.
Editor: Beautifully put. Thank you so much for one of the most inspiring interviews our magazine has had the honor of conducting, Will.
Will Mayo: Thank you Vera!!
Interview conducted by Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
Editor 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 emailed to us by Will.
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