An Interview With David Lloyd
An Interview with David Lloyd: Father, Teacher, Lander Bouldering Guidebook Author
I pulled into Wild Iris Mountain Sports in order to fill up my water jug. It was the start of the Lander Climbers’ Festival and I noticed a family of four biking out of the parking lot. I had seen them around town the day before. As this was my first time in Lander, I got the feeling that this family was a fixture in the local climbing community. Maybe it was because Mom and Dad had forearms the size of Mohammed Ali’s thighs. Later that same day, I went to help out with the Boulder Bash, which signified the start of the festival. The Dad biking around with his family pulled up. We said hello and that was the start of getting to know David Lloyd.
David Lloyd, local Lander resident and science teacher, spearheaded the establishment of bouldering all over the Wind River Range. Playing host for the Boulder Bash, the kick-off event to the festival, David graciously showed climbers around the Cabin Boulders and made everyone feel encouraged and welcome. You would never have known that inside David was deeply hurting and struggling to remain present due to his father being in the hospital. His family was unsure if he would survive. On his thoughtful blog, David writes: “…I'd volunteered to help with the Boulder Bash that night. So, I pushed thoughts of my dad out of my mind for a few hours and just focused on helping out at the Boulder Bash as if nothing else was happening. The event went well, and I enjoyed watching everyone from beginner to pros test themselves on various problems from V0-V10. I bouldered a bit myself, but found that even with a bunch of lights provided by Goal Zero I was falling off of normally easy top outs once it got dark.”
Despite dealing with emotional turmoil, he still showed up to be a part of the community he loved. Two days later he was on a plane to Syracuse, New York to be with his family. Through his father’s passing David realized that “…when life comes to an end, we live on through our reputation. That it's important to have a positive impact on the world. But that different people are in very different places, and will have very different impacts. We all have a unique path to tread. Most of our moments, and most of our lives, continue on in a comfortable state of habit just meeting necessities. But true excellence, influence, and inspiration come from doing new things, and doing them well.”
David goes in depth with Terra Incognita about his relationship to climbing and how it has affected his life.
How did you get into climbing?
My climbing life got started while I was an exchange student in Australia and was introduced to a friend of my older host sister. He was into abseiling (a.k.a. rappelling) and scuba diving, and one day he took me rappelling using a figure 8 rappelling device. The “sport” was to descend the cliff in as few jumps as possible, and we’d also put on the harness backwards so we could run down the cliffs forwards. It was fun. About six months after I went home to Iowa, I made a college visit to Colorado State University and stayed in Boulder, CO for a couple days. While I was there, I walked into the Mountain Shop on Pearl Street and bought the gear I needed to start rappelling: a climbing rope, a harness, a figure 8, and a copy of John Long’s How to Rock Climb book. I used money I’d saved up by working at a grocery store. I took all the gear back home to Iowa, asked my friends if they wanted to try jumping off cliffs with me, and started making trips to Backbone State Park.
One day we saw a man top-roping, and that looked cool. So, I ordered an REI catalog, and then used it to order some webbing, cordalette and carabiners. Big trees provided the anchors, and we began top-roping using a “belay station” because we only had one harness. We wore wrestling shoes because we didn’t have climbing shoes. Once I got to CSU, I started buying trad gear and scaring myself and my friends on multi pitch trad climbs. Then I started climbing at Inner Strength rock gym in Ft. Collins, and during Thanksgiving break of 1996, I made my first trip to Hueco Tanks, where I was introduced to bouldering.
What’s your day job?
I’m starting my 15th year of 7th grade Science teaching.
Where’s your favorite place to climb?
I love the vast, wild, stone filled areas accessed from Lander, Wyoming. I take my family to a lot of different areas based on where we’ll get the best conditions. My absolute favorite place to be is just a bit further into areas like Sweetwater Rocks than I’ve ever been before, exploring new blocks and then climbing new problems.
What has been your most memorable climbing experience?
Unfortunately, it’s when a large block I grabbed fell off the top of a route at Wild Iris and I watched it fall straight towards my daughter who was eating lunch below. If she had been sitting eight inches to the left, she would have been killed. I don’t want that to be the most memorable experience, but it’s really stuck with me.
You are an asset to the Lander climbing community as you published the Bouldering guide book. Can you talk about this process? Establishing routes and then turning your work into a book?
There was already a small bouldering guidebook out when we moved to Lander that was written by Steve Bechtel. We used that guide a lot, but within a couple years we were running out of boulder problems to do. Davin Bagdonas (a prolific bouldering developer based in Laramie) gave me a few tours, and sent us topos of many lines he’d put up with friends near Worthen Reservoir, Torrey Valley and out at Sweetwater. So, we started doing those problems, and also putting up new lines that we saw. Chris Marley and Jesse Brown were putting up new problems too, and we’d get out together occasionally.
One night at the Elemental Climbing Gym, Steve Bechtel said that he wasn’t that into bouldering and he’d like me to write the next bouldering guidebook. But it wasn’t until I made a trip up to the Source and found that many of the problems I’d brushed a couple years back had already regrown lichen, that I realized a new guide was absolutely necessary. I saw that if we didn’t have people climbing on the new lines we’d already cleaned, they’d just disappear, and we’d never be able to establish sizable good bouldering sectors to visit beyond Sinks canyon. So, I got to work on the guidebook, and sent out some sections I was working on for local climbers to check out.
Kyle Duba recognized right away that I was unintentionally breaking many of the most basic rules of good graphic design. He got me in touch with a graphic designer, Ben Sears, who took my work and fit it into an organized, good looking format. Then I got in touch with a publisher. They wanted me to change the line style of every boulder problem, allow them to add at least 8 pages of advertisements, and print the guide in China, which would postpone the book’s release for many months. I didn’t want to do any of those things, so I used $8000 dollars I’d saved up to print the guide myself.
Now it’s three and a half years later, and I haven’t quite made that money back. But the bouldering areas are getting enough traffic to stay clean, we’ve got more people putting up problems than ever before, and motivated boulderers from across the country visit on a regular basis. In hindsight, all of the work and financial investment has been worthwhile. I had a vision of the type of ideal bouldering area I thought the Lander area could become, and we’re much closer to that ideal today than we were when my guidebook first came out.
What is your relationship with fear in climbing?
I enjoy having some fear in my climbing. On highball boulder problems I experience such focus, and it’s exciting to push things to some degree and see what I’m capable of. To practice controlling my mind, commit, and manage to perform well in a scary situation feels really good. And I enjoy sport climbing where fear gradually accumulates on my way up a pitch, but I’m still in a relatively safe situation. But there are types of fear that I find really unpleasant, and it’s fear that keeps me from enjoying some branches of climbing such as alpine trad climbing.
I enjoy fear in short doses, but hate feeling so scared that I can’t sleep before a climb. And I hate to rush things while I’m scared, but you need to rush everything high in the mountains in order to avoid getting stuck in afternoon lightning storms. I’m also not comfortable dealing with large loose blocks, and rock fall, which are both common on alpine climbs. Fear is one spice of climbing, but it’s also necessary to listen to it, and then try to figure out whether the fear you’re feeling is reasonable or not.
What are your thoughts on social media/technology and how it affects our relationship with the outdoors? Good, bad, complicated, simple, all of the above?
It’s fun to see what people are doing, and I think that social media can help us promote and protect public lands and wild places. It can also push us to keep doing new and interesting things. On the flip side it can promote stupid stunts and rule breaking in order to get that sick Instagram shot. And new bouldering areas now have the potential to blow up overnight before the trails and infrastructure have been developed to handle crowds of people. It also feels like social media has stolen attention from the types of media I love the most, such as well written articles, feature length climbing films, and climbing literature. I enjoyed many of the climbing blogs that were updated regularly from around 2006-2011, but that movement started dying out with the rise of Facebook.
What was climbing like when you started? Was there an “industry?”
When I started climbing in the late 90’s the “industry” seemed to be doing very well. Climbing magazine and Rock and Ice were both very well written and almost 200 pages per issue. Locally owned climbing shops across the Colorado Front Range were prosperous. They had multiple book shelves full of guidebooks, and major literary works like Paul Pritchard’s Deep Play were coming out every couple months.
Then multiple feature length climbing videos started coming out each year produced professionally by the likes of Big Up, Sender Films, and Chuck Fryberger. Almost every climber was reading the magazines, watching the films, and buying the books. Also bouldering was blowing up in popularity, pads were improving quickly, and grades were progressing quickly as well. There seemed to be a lot of capital invested in the expectation that climbing would be “The Next Big Thing.”
What are your thoughts on the industry today?
I was getting concerned about the “industry” for a couple years when it got really difficult to even find decent climbing chalk, and my wife Ashley was having trouble getting a good pair of climbing shoes in her size. Those issues have been taken care of now. So, I’m happy that I can still find good gear, and that we have a great climbing shop here in Lander. I do miss the types of magazines and films we used to have. But I still get excited about the quarterly issues of Alpinist, and The Climbing Zine which comes out twice a year.
What does success mean to you in climbing, in life?
Staying healthy, staying balanced, learning all the time, and finding ways to do things better. Life doesn’t have to be as complicated, or difficult, as we make it for ourselves.
What kind of climbing advice have you given your daughters?
We’ve tried to show that having fun is the most important part, and that you’ll have the most fun in climbing if you come up with a schedule to do it consistently. That it’s good to try hard, be creative, and puzzle through all the sequences that might work on a problem. And that the grades are a very imperfect measuring stick.
What are your thoughts on going into the unknown?
It’s absolutely essential. Whether you’re going into a place that’s just unknown to you, or areas unexplored by any climber before, that’s how the sport grows. Going into truly unexplored places is quite a privilege, and with that comes a responsibility of thinking about the future of a place. Some places should be promoted, and others shouldn’t be.
Has climbing changed you?
Yes, and in many significant ways. It pushed me to live far from my parents, and siblings, in a state I wouldn’t otherwise call home. I’ve become a passionate advocate for public lands. I have a knowledge of the landscape, and feel a connection to nature that I wouldn’t have ever had without climbing. My forearms have gotten huge, and though I still may not be considered especially cool or charismatic, I’m so much cooler than I used to be! Luckily no one in Lander knew me when I was in high school.
Has climbing helped you?
Yes, but it goes wider than that. Climbing is a selfish pursuit, but I think it’s possible for certain selfish pursuits to have positive side effects that extend beyond the individual. Climbing has helped me stay healthy and intellectually engaged. It’s helped me make friends with people of different ages and classes. It’s helped me be a better husband, father, and teacher. I know more about the world and myself through climbing, and it’s given me more interesting stories to tell.
Who have been your mentors in life or climbing?
I admire a lot of authors. Henry David Thoreau had a big influence on me when I was young. Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Wind, Sand and Stars is about aviation in the 1930s and some of it comes across as dated today, but he had quite a few important ideas figured out about the quest for a meaningful life through adventure and wild places. Many ideas and passages that a climber can relate to, including the types of realizations one comes to by getting up above it all. A modern author I’ve been reading is Sam Harris. I admire his sincerity, honesty, and quest for intellectual consistency.
In climbing life, I admire very dedicated and competent bouldering developers such as Davin Bagdonas and Jamie Emerson, and all the people who manage to stay committed to climbing while also juggling a successful career and family life. There are a lot of people I admire for certain traits, and a few who seem to have put together the entire puzzle that life presents us with.
Have you had any “aha” moments about life, love, happiness, etc. where all of a sudden something made sense to you, or you figured something out?
Certain quotations that have informed my life, and helped me see things in new ways. One that made me see everything anew was “You live through all things, and all things live through you.” It gave me a strong sense of how connected we are to everything, and yet totally alone in our subjective experiences. It helped me realize that all of our lives are different, but that we’re all free to try and shape our world, and can make things better.
Another is, “You can do anything you want, if you’re willing to pay the full price.” It ties together our freedom, and the responsibility that comes along with it in a very concise way. Those two quotes helped me grow up, stand on my own, and start doing things rather than just waiting for things to happen. On the topic of love, Antoine de Saint-Exupery said “Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.” I think it’s a message worth remembering.
What books are you reading right now?
On Having No Head by D. E. Harding, The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris, and Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone: A Mountaineering History and Guide by Thomas Turiano
What music are you listening to?
The new Descendents album, Hazel English, and the KEXP Music That Matters podcast.
What are you working on right now? Climbing, home projects, etc?
I’ve got a few inspiring, unclimbed, problems I’m working on at Sweetwater and near Worthen Reservoir in the V8/9 range. I’m trying to figure out the best way to share the 500 new problems that have been put up in the Lander area since the guidebook was printed. Right now the two leading options are writing small updated printed guides to specific areas like the Rock Shop, or just releasing the giant Google map I’ve been building to my blog. I also write blog posts whenever I can tie our activities to a topic that I think is worth talking about. Now the upcoming school year is occupying my mind, and I just managed to finish all the home projects I had planned for the summer yesterday.
What are your thoughts on the future of climbing? The direction it’s going, the shape it is going to take? Are there things we should celebrate, bemoan, take caution with, or advocate for?
It appears that the mass of climbing activity is becoming more gym centered. Gyms are a lot of fun, but I hope that the main focus of climbing will always keep its connection to the outdoors. A lot of new things are making it easier to climb outside. Websites with spot weather forecasts make it much easier to find good outdoor conditions. Google Earth makes it easier to find new rock, and one day drones for personal flight might make long approaches less demanding. So, I think that the sport will keep expanding.
I hope that people will continue to adapt themselves to the rock, and avoid changing the natural environment significantly to meet their preconceived wants or convenience. We should celebrate climbing as the amazing activity it is, and how it benefits all who participate, and avoid only focusing on the athletically elite and difficulty as all that matter in the sport. It’s a big sport and there are so many different and important ways that anyone can contribute to it. Those who clean up crags, replace bolts, write great articles, find and develop amazing new areas, or organize trail days in conjunction with land management agencies deserve just as much credit as those who are regularly repeating the V15s. It’s all inspirational, and it all makes our sport better.
I hope that people will get a bit more independent and not keep herding up at all the same places. It seems like a few spots such as Kraft Rocks, the Buttermilks, and Joe’s Valley are getting mobbed, while many other great places are relatively empty. I also hope that all climbers will band together to oppose efforts to privatize our public lands. And I believe that one day the top boulderers will realize that if they want to develop the best new boulder problems, they need to find the best unclimbed stones. Then the attention of U.S. bouldering will shift towards Wyoming, because nowhere else has so much potential.