Interview with Rock & Ice Editor Jeff Jackson

We’ve been hoping to get these out on a regular basis, but time sure does fly sometimes! Anyway, here’s an interview with one of the most motivated local climbers we know, Jeff Jackson. Kick back with your cup of coffee on this fine Friday morning and enjoy!


Jeff Jackson on the first ascent of the Pink Wall, The Gash, near Redstone, CO. Photo by Chris Hunter.

How long have you been in the Roaring Fork Valley? What brought you here?

This is our fifth summer in the Valley. Hannah and I got married at the end of May in 2005, packed up the yurt and moved to Carbondale the next week. We were ready to start a family, which meant that I needed a “real” job. I’d been teaching climbing and yoga, and freelancing for about twenty years, so when Rock and Ice offered me the position of Editor, I jumped on it like a Mexican dog on a chicken taco. The timing was perfect. Hannah sent her resume to the Roaring Fork Waldorf School and was immediately hired as the special needs teacher. It all came together like it was meant to happen. Plus, I’d been friends with Duane Raleigh, the publisher, since 1980, and I’d been visiting Carbondale for years and years. I knew we’d like living in the valley. Sure enough, we love it here.

Do you miss anything about Texas?

Well, I am a Texan to the bone. I know that’s a liability in Colorocky, where Texans are viewed as the bastard children at the family picnic, but I grew up in the Lone Star State. I definitely miss the laid-back vibe of Austin. There’s a great, motivated climbing community, a thriving music scene, deep water soloing and world-class granite and limestone bouldering. Redstone is really unique, but I wish there were more blocs in the valley! Also, I can honestly say that in Austin I never heard the silly (to me) debates about ethics, style and quality that seem to preoccupy some Western Slopers.

What are your favorite local cliffs? Why?

I’m stoked on the Gash, a new area with overhanging granite cliffs. We have 12 routes up now. They’re pumpy, 30-meters long and tend to be mid to upper 5.12. The holds are generally big and comfortable. Perfect for mileage. Plus, the Gash is just seven miles from our house (12 miles from Carbondale), with a five-minute approach, so I can get up there after work. It’s shady and cool, and really unique, with an adventurous feel.

The Frying Pan area—the Skillet and Ruedi Wall—will always be a fave for me. I love the sandstone mixed finger cracks at the high crag. Routes like Whiskey River (5.11c), Steel Driver (5.11b) and Book of Rules (5.11d) take good pro and offer secluded, scenic climbing with intricate but bomber protection. I actually love the approach, too. Some folks will be horrified by the 45-minute, steeply uphill slog, but it keeps away the riff raff. Just kidding. I’ve actually never seen anyone else up there, despite the fact that the upper crag has about 50 routes of Eldo-quality mixed and sport climbing from 5.10 to 5.13b up to 200 feet tall. It was amazing and humbling to be able to develop a hidden gem like that.

You are more motivated about new routes than anyone I know. You always seem willing to go just a little bit further and try just a little bit harder to get it done. What drives you to put up new climbs? The Fame? The Glory?

Fame and glory are definitely a huge part of new routing for me. And women. And money.

Those things aside, I love the thrill of finding a new crag, figuring out how to get to the base, roughing in a trail and then visualizing climbs. The process of new routing is far more intimate than just climbing—or even projecting a hard sport route. Cleaning loose rock, brushing lichen and dirt off the holds, inventing a sequence up chalkless rock. It’s super fun and creative for me. I’ve been climbing since 1977. Back then there were no guidebooks and very few established routes. So early on I started to develop climbs. I got a taste of that unique, creative, exploratory process and just loved it.

Another question along the same lines, why spend all your time wrestling with choss when you could go climb some of the best sport routes in the country at Rifle, a mere hour away?

I’m old and weak, and Rifle kicks my ass.

I climbed a bunch at Rifle in the 90s and really loved it. And I also climbed almost exclusively in steep limestone caves in Texas for years and years. Plus, I did lots of multi-pitch limestone routes in Mexico, and developed bunches of limestone boulder problems.

Now I’m enjoying climbing granite and sandstone.

I suppose I could get in shape for steep limestone again, but the angles at Rifle require a lot of commitment. You have to climb there a ton to get fit for the style. I have a two-year-old son and my window for climbing is a half day on weekends, so options closer to home work better for me.

Finally, I’m into new routes. If you establish routes at Rifle, you know that it involves plenty of “choss-wrestling.” I think it’s a great place to climb, but it’s choss. The Frying Pan sandstone is actually far better quality stone.

As the editor at Rock & Ice, you’ve got your finger on the pulse of climbing, what do you see as the biggest issue facing climbers in the future?

As always, access issues are cropping up like brush fires around the country. A burgeoning issue involves wilderness advocates who want to limit access by enlarging wilderness parcels in the interest of “protecting” the land. In the past, climbers and wilderness advocates have worked together, but increasingly these guys are viewing climbers as adversaries. Keep in mind that the “wilderness” designation would outlaw motorized drilling, and once reclassified, it would make it impossible to maintain existing anchors in places like Independence Pass, for example. Spooky.

Many people would consider working at one of the mags a dream job, what’s your favorite thing about being there?

I love the fact that we’re all climbers, and that climbing is a part of the job. Gear testing is a very cool way to spend your day. Plus, my co-workers understand when I simply have to go send a project.

What’s the worst thing about working for a mag?

Sitting on your ass all day staring at a computer screen is about as enervating as watching paint dry.

What are you most psyched about right now?

Being a papa. Everybody says that, but once you have a little rug rat tugging at your pants legs you understand that nothing is better than having a child. Not even climbing.

I know developing can sometimes being exciting, rapping in on a new line. Had any scary close calls?

I have had many close calls. Developing the Gash was particularly nightmarish. A few weeks ago I stranded myself on a double rope rappel, hanging 30 feet away from the wall, 150 feet above the canyon floor. I was alone and had one shoulder sling, one quickdraw and a tibloc. Very interesting problem, and totally sketch.

In developing new routes you’re constantly dealing with virgin terrain: loose rock, exposed positions, rope abrasion, critters and weather. Ironically, my closest call came on El Cap. I was doing the Nose for the third time and a party of Koreans knocked a massive block, the size of a cooler, off of Texas Flake. It passed so close that it ripped a hole in my down jacket.

But we’re always dodging bullets. Sometimes we don’t even realize how close we come to biting the big one. That’s just life. In climbing, you gotta be heads up, and doing new routes is particularly hazardous.

You teach a Yoga class in town. How did you get involved with Yoga? Do you feel it helps your climbing?

In 1989 an Iyengar Yoga instructor in Austin asked if he could trade climbing lessons for yoga lessons. I agreed, and we became close friends. We went on to do Half Dome together, and tons of climbs all over the country. I moved into a garage apartment behind his studio in 1998 and really went deeply into practice—getting up at 4 am for breath work and meditation, eating a vegetarian diet, and practicing asanas (poses) for 5 hours a day.

Then I built a yurt on some land I bought out side of Austin and did a 5 year retreat. No running water, bathing in the creek, composting my poop—full-on stinky yoga hippie heaven.

Of course, I was also totally into climbing—road tripping etc.

Yoga practice translates directly into better climbing. No doubt. Many of the poses correspond directly with climbing moves. Yoga will improve your focus, help you deal with anxiety and fear, and accelerate recovery. It’s awesome. I teach at True Nature in Carbondale …

You’re a relatively new father, how has parenthood changed your outlook on climbing?

Climbing is so directly tied to who I am as a human being that it remains a constant. I try to climb as much as possible and Hannah supports that desire.

On the other hand, before we had Kai I would do some hairball shit, like run out first ascents and solos and I’d sometimes privately think, “Today is a good day to die.” Weird, I know, but I really did have that thought sometimes. Now I really, really don’t want to die climbing. I want to get Kai through college. Then I’ll start doing stupid shit again.

I know you started getting into mixed climbing in the winter, what’s your experience with that been like?

Mixed climbing is absolutely terrifying. I have a ton of respect for local guys like Duane Raleigh and Ryan Jennings who are solid and skillful on the ice. I’m constantly scared and just waiting for my tools to shear and scoop out my eyeballs. That’s why I spend most of my time on a top rope.

Anything else?

I feel so lucky to be a part of this community. We live in a paradise. Thanks to Spirit for these gifts, this life. I hope to see you all on the rock soon. Peace up!

5 Responses to Interview with Rock & Ice Editor Jeff Jackson

  1. great interview beej – jefe, you are one modest dood! i’ve been on some of those “warm ups” of yours, no weakling could call them warm ups.

    JG July 31, 2009 at 7:22 pm
  2. Nice work BJ. The interviews are awesome, great addition to SC for sure.

    Greg August 3, 2009 at 8:01 pm
  3. Pingback: News & Notes – 08/07/2009 | Climbing Narcissist

  4. Pingback: silly (to me) « SendAustin!

  5. Pingback: Episode 19: Jeff Jackson- Journeyman, Mystic | The Enormocast

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