Considering his impressive collection of achievements, Brad Gobright is definitely not as well-known as he should be. Holding the speed record for El Capitan’s “The Nose” at one time as well as successfully free soloing some of the most difficult climbs in the world, Brad seemed unstoppable. But was his motivation and determination to climb making him reckless?
We spoke to Brad to hear more about his story “Pushing the Limits”, and the internal battle he faces when he wants to climb the next biggest and hardest climb.
How did you get into rock climbing?
I started climbing as a little kid. My parents took me to this climbing gym that had just opened near our house. I wasn’t really into team sports, I was more of a jumping around, running and climbing kind of kid. Midway through high school, I made a friend who also climbed and so we started going to the climbing wall all the time. From there we started climbing real rocks and pretty much taught ourselves how to do it. To be honest, these were probably the most dangerous climbing years I had – I had no idea what I was doing!
What is it that sets you apart from other climbers? Where do you get your motivation from?
I’m definitely not super physically gifted or anything – I know climbers who are stronger than I am. But I think with me, it’s my motivation, drive and passion. It’s got me where I am today. I’m so motivated by being out in the beautiful outdoors on these unique mountains with no one else is around – and I love that you get a physical and mental workout at the same time. I just live and breathe climbing – if I could do it all day every day, I would. Which is part of my problem!
You spend a lot of time climbing in Yosemite Valley. What is it that you like so much about Yosemite?
When I’m in Yosemite, I’m so happy. For climbers, it’s the holy grail. It’s mind-blowing – the landscape, the climbs, the experiences. I know every climb will be amazing, even if it’s something I’ve done a million times before. I might be scared at times, or completely exhausted but I know it’s always going to be fun in one way or another.
You do a lot of free climbing and free soloing – what do you enjoy about that?
Yeah so, I free climb and free solo [climbing with no ropes at all]. I guess one of the reasons I started free soloing is because you can get a lot more climbing in. You don’t have a partner, so there’s no waiting involved – you can just head out there and start climbing.
Usually, I do go out with friends but sometimes it is nice to go up by yourself and do a load of climbing in its purest form. I think there’s a more obvious mental challenge to free solo climbs as well – you really have to make sure you’re 100% ready and certain that you’re at the point where you could climb without a rope.
A lot of your climbs are dangerous. Do you thrive off this element of danger? What would you say your attitude is like towards this?
Yeah well, I guess climbing the way that I do is inherently dangerous and I do get a kick out of completing a particularly difficult climb. I don’t know that it’s the danger I thrive off, it’s more the idea that I can do it. I don’t think I really think about how dangerous it is when I’m actually doing it – I am completely in the zone. For example, when I was climbing Hairstyles and Attitudes in Eldorado Canyon, I was in such a bubble of concentration. It was the hardest and most dangerous free solo I’ve ever done but that thought didn’t really occur to me while I was actually climbing!
That attitude changed a bit after a succession of injuries though, didn’t it?
Yeah, I think I was getting into a cycle of just going for it, whatever the climb. I knew I was capable, so I was starting to get ahead of myself. I wasn’t really preparing for the climbs and I was pushing myself to the limit, exhausting myself physically and mentally, getting into this concentration bubble.
Then I had a string of quite bad injuries. I broke my toes, my ankle twice, my elbow and my back. With the back injury, I’d been desperate to do the climb before it closed for the season. I was 90% ready for it, so I went for it. I wasn’t 100% ready. And sure enough, I fell and injured myself. I had to take quite a lot of time off to heal and this was the first real time off I’d had in my entire climbing career. I think I realised how ridiculous that was and in a way, it was a relief to have a break.
How did the injuries affect your mindset towards climbing?
Coming back to climbing after the back injury, I was so excited. I was super motivated but also felt fresh, fit and healthy and ready for it. I realised how much better I was climbing than before and started to allow myself more time to think before a climb – to understand what was dangerous, what was worth it and what wasn’t. I thought about everything a little bit harder. And it made such a difference to my climbing. I realised that I was reckless before, without really realising it at the time. And this recklessness could actually be easily combatted by resting a bit more!
Where do you find the balance between being motivated to climb your best and not being reckless?
I’m still really motivated to climb. I think that motivation and passion is wired into me and I do find it difficult to check myself. I’m definitely still working on it. But breaking my back turned out to be a really positive experience. If I hadn’t broken it, I would never have had the time off and would never have realised that it actually makes me a better climber. I’m still figuring it out but I think that because I know taking time out is actually making me a better climber, it makes it easier for me to check myself when I’m getting carried away.
What do you see for the future of your career?
In my down time, I’ve started to train up as a climbing instructor. I really like the idea of inspiring young climbers and being that climber they look up to and want to emulate. It’s a great way to give back to the climbing community too. And of course, I have no plans to give up climbing any time soon, so I’ll always be out there on the rocks!
What advice would you give budding climbers, wanting to follow in your footsteps?
I think the one piece of advice I’d give would be to make sure you find the middle ground – follow your passion for climbing but don’t let it get to the point where you’re pushing yourself too hard, to the point that you don’t enjoy it. Make sure you enjoy every minute of being out there.
If you want to read more about Brad and his rock climbing, click here.
Words by Brad Gobright
Photographs by Drew Smith