Radical Recreation: Too close to the edge

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Photo credit: Adam Dean Phillips

As a kid, seeing a tree with perfect branches made climbing irresistible. This urge to climb stuck with biology major, Gus Barber, who picked up rock climbing three years ago.

After spontaneously going by the rock gym with his father, Barber describes the moment he realized he should start rock climbing as an “epiphanous moment.” At the rock gym, there was a climbing competition called the Frigid Flash, which put Barber in awe and influenced him to start climbing.

“I just watched as people scaled the walls of the gym with an intricate and tenuous grace, the like of which I had never seen, I stayed in the gym for the next three hours,” Barber said. “When I watched the finalists on the wave wall — a sixty foot artificial cave that extended horizontally over the ceiling for twenty-five feet- I saw one of the employees execute move after move with a perfection that made my jaw drop and my eyes go wide, I said then that this is what I want to do, and I did.”

Rock climbing provides Barber with multiple beneficial factors that motivates him to continue with the hobby such as accomplishing personal goals, exploration and friendships.

“For different aspects, I like different things. Sometimes it’s just the pure feeling of moving over rock, sometimes it’s the feeling of success after I have tried a route over and over again, sometimes it’s the beautiful places climbing takes me,” Barber said. “Most of the time though, it’s the people I meet and get to share the great moments with.”

During the winter, along with school, work and skiing, Barber trains for rock climbing three to four days a week for three hours a session. Training with different exercises is an important part of becoming an all around efficient climber.

“I aspire to be a well rounded climber, so my training varies greatly. In the gym, I train bouldering and roped climbing, as well as a lot of climbing specific exercises and general fitness exercises,” Barber said. “When I am at home or working away from Anchorage, I train on a home built crack training machine — which I use to simulate crack climbing outside — as well as a variety of other climbing specific and general fitness exercises.”

Rock climbing has allowed Barber to travel and climb a variety of places. Some of these places include an unclimbed 1500-foot wall in the Talkeetnas, the Red Rocks in Nevada called the Crimson Chrysalis and the most recent climbing El Captain on a route called the Free Rider. Before the spring 2017 semester at UAA ended, Barber has been planning a trip for this summer to travel from Arizona to Alaska in his van. During this five week trip, Barber plans on climbing most of the major destinations in between.

“The trip I am on currently is driving the van from Arizona all the way home to Alaska. I am taking five weeks to climb at most of the major climbing destinations between Arizona and Alaska,” Barber said.

Since rock climbing has done so much for Barber, it is important for him to give back through his job and volunteer work in the rock climbing community.

“Beyond myself, I feel a deep need to give back to the climbing community that helped me into this lifestyle, so one of my jobs at the Alaska rock gym is teaching the lead clinic, I volunteer periodically at climbing festivals around Alaska and I try to climb outside with beginning climbers, with the idea of teaching them safe climbing practices and taking them to the better spots in Alaska,” Barber said. “For me, the ideas of being an ambassador to the sport and teaching those who want to climb are just as important as climbing hard on my own.”

Barber is working on his biology degree with a focus on micro and bio chemistry at UAA and plans to further his education through the WAMMI medical educational program at UAA. However, he hopes to take a year off to climb and travel before pursuing his career.

“Eventually I want to become an ER doctor, I volunteered at the ANMC ER the past winter and found a place I could work with exceptional people,” Barber said. “Beyond that I have a capacity for calm, consequential decision making that fits well with the job.”

Despite the dangers of rock climbing, Barbers mother, Fran Wilson, is supportive of her son’s passion and is looking forward for his return from his current climbing trip.

“I am quite pleased, mostly about his ability to remain alive and safe, and secondarily that he has found his passion and chosen to pursue it so thoroughly while he is young and supple,” Wilson said. “It’s wonderful to see his photos and his ever deepening grin, with many old and new friends. I must say however that I am looking forward to his return to indentured servitude at Halibut Cove, building our cabin on the cliff, don’t want to waste that strength and talent on just fun.”

Barber is currently trekking his way through the states and rock climbing on his way back home, to Alaska. Climbing has allowed Barber to travel through many different places and he is excited about where it might take him in the future.