Rock climbing

Mental health issues and escalation

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Depression, addiction, bipolar disorder, PTSD, eating disorders, severe bereavement. Climbers, as human beings, can experience all of these things. To honor Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ve taken some of our best stories on these topics, stories about icons whose fame drove them to isolation, depression and alcoholism; stories of young grinders whose drive to get strong led them to eat so little that it negatively impacted not only their climbing, but also their health; stories of guilt and grief and the spiral of self-loathing and abuse these emotions can lead to; and stories of the drug and alcohol abuse that has too often ruined the lives of beloved members of our community.

These stories are listed alphabetically by author.

—Editors

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By Ed Douglas

He was the first true sport climbing icon, famous throughout 1980s France for his daring exploits and bohemian lifestyle. In 2012, fighting depression and bottthe, he died in a tragic accident at just 52 years old. What happened ?

“There was something wacky about Patrick Edlinger, who spent his last decade here. A photograph of him by Guy Martin-Ravel, one of the few images from his zenith that the elder Edlinger – eyes swollen with cigarettes and alcohol – allowed on the walls of his house, perfectly captures the notion. Her face is narrow and long, framed by a tuft of blonde hair, her lips slightly pursed. The whole effect sways dangerously towards a parody of a 1980s rock star, except for the eyes. Edlinger’s gaze is fixed halfway: intense, dark and hungry.

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By Nate Draughan

An honest account of a top climber who hit rock bottom

“I woke up as the cops pulled me out of the car. I had half a gram of heroin on me, 10 Xanax, some morphine and three needles – enough for at least a year in prison. Shortly after the cops started going through my backpack, Zach, my halfway house manager, showed up. Zach was in good shape, fishing, and had just finished his night stocking job. I think I called him earlier that night, to tell him I was going to be late, but I don’t remember. Somehow he found out I was at Denny’s.

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by Stephanie Forte

This essay on anorexia and bulimia was written in 1996 by Stéphanie Forté, then aged 29, and published in Escalation perspective section that year. Forté may have been the first American mountaineer to write about the issue, which took courage, but she notes that she would write differently now: “If I wrote this essay today, the ending wouldn’t be attached to a bow,” she wrote to Us in an email. “The impact of an eating disorder on my life has been significant and on many levels.”

“In our little climbing subculture, we have published articles alluding to the fact that eating disorders can be a problem in our sport. They are. Having been anorexic and bulimic for 17 years, I feel that I can call myself an expert on this. More than half of my life and most of my energy has been devoted to this disease. We are so entwined with each other that sometimes I don’t know where I end and where it begins. It has been my security blanket, a source of power and my worst enemy, and could well lead me to an early grave.

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By John Long

Climbing has long celebrated alcohol and drug abuse. Many climbers become lifelong alcoholics and drug addicts, and their families, friends and climbing partners bear the brunt of the cost. One of rock climbing‘s most iconic figures fell into the pit, but retreated and now has an important lesson every climber should read.

“My journey to escape hell is nothing special or unique. There is an understanding in recovery rooms (especially AA, my chosen path) that we all tell the same story, but those of us with a genius for denial, dishonesty, and self-deception have to hear it over and over again to hear it at all. Then we have to keep hearing it to stay the course.” Eternal Vigilance .” ”

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By Steve Markusen

50 years ago, Steve Markusen’s father died when a rappel anchor failed, falling fatally 50 feet in front of his two boys.

“This is the story of that day and its aftermath: denial, loss, depression; alcohol and drug abuse. Looking back, I see a pattern of self-destruction, perhaps attempts to sabotage my life. Writing about it all these years later is about redemption and healing.

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By Delaney Miller and Mimi Nissan

Two top climbers of their generation reflect on how eating disorders influenced their climbing.

“Despite my thinness, I couldn’t go a single day without counting calories, thinking about my weight and all that I could be if I could be anyone else. Despite all the training, the trainers , nutritionists, therapists and doctors, I still hadn’t been able to look into the crystal ball and see my escape, because that would be admitting that I needed it.

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By Alison Osius

Earl Wiggins was a top free climber and soloist in the 1970s and 1980s. (He did the FA of Supercrack/Luxury Liner at Indian Creek… placing hexes.) is committed suicide.

“Wiggins died in December 15 years ago, by his own hand in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Much is unknown about the ups and downs he experienced, the losses and disappointments he endured. , and the nature of a kind, searching, troubled person who found his true self – in a way that must have seemed like a miracle – in climbing.

Green was, he said, “stunned” by his friend’s death.

‘I could not believe it. But you never know what’s going on in people’s lives. Jimmie and I talked about it for years: why didn’t he call us? Why didn’t he call his friends? … We were all ready to help, to do anything.

We still don’t know why he did it. “

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By Steven Potter

This profile and interview with photographer and mountaineer Cory Richards, the only American to date to summit 8,000 meters in winter, discusses Richards’ battles with PTSD, bipolar disorder, and addiction—and why climbing is no longer a part of his life.

“On the one hand, what he experienced was a mental health emergency: a nightmarish resurgence of old traumas coupled with undertreated bipolar disorder. On the other hand, Dhaulagiri saw Richards finally acknowledging that his relationship almost Faustian with rock climbing – a sport that brought him wealth, fame and external validation – was no longer sustainable…and perhaps never was.

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By Gabrielle Tourtelloutte

In her bid to become a top competitor, Tourtelloutte embraced the “shrink to send” mentality…there were long-term consequences.

“‘Gabbs, you look a little yellow.’

I rolled my eyes, ‘No, I don’t.’

My dad chimed in from the other room, agreeing with my then-boyfriend Mike, “No, he’s right, you are Yellow.’

But where? I wondered. Later that evening I checked in the mirror and it was there, in my eyes and on my skin. I was surprised to have missed it. Shortly after, I received a call from my doctor. According to my last blood test, I had liver failure, which explained the yellowing of my skin and my eyes. I hung up and didn’t think much about it. A few weeks later, I entered my final Junior Sport and Sprint Championships with a broken right ring finger and a partial tear in the A4 pulley tendon. Three days later, I was hospitalized for anorexia.

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By Caroline Treadway

Have you ever climbed on a Kilter Board? Even if you haven’t, you’ve almost certainly climbed on Ian Powell’s holds. He was one of the most influential shapers in the industry; then he went to jail. 11 years of freedom, he has since changed the industry again as one of the founders of Kilter.

“Ian Powell has hit rock bottom three years ago, on Thanksgiving Day, in a dumpster near Denver. Curled up under a layer of garbage, he was frozen, sick from dope and hadn’t eaten in days. He had no friends who weren’t junkies or criminals. He couldn’t remember the last time he had climbed, but it had been two or three years ago. More importantly, he was not producing art. He needed to make art. Rummaging through the dumpster, he found paper and pens and drew until his hands were numb.

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By Caroline Wickes

Eating disorders, dangerous diets and poor body images are rampant in the climbing community. We’re all playing a game with gravity, but what happens when we push our body and mind into unhealthy territory and how can we stop it?

I know anorexia and bulimia intimately. My battle with an eating disorder led me to periods of starvation, binge eating, purging, and endless self-abuse through diet and exercise. After two stints in inpatient treatment centers, lots of therapy, and more slip-ups than I care to mention, two years ago, at age 22, I finally achieved what I will tentatively call a healthy relationship. with food.