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Mayan Smith-Gobat Interview
How did you get into climbing? Who taught or inspired you?
I have been exposed to climbing my whole life - from before I was born. My father was a mountain guide and my mother, though not a technical climber, was also very keen on the outdoors. However, it was not until I was 16, when I took an alpine climbing course and discovered the mountains, that I began properly climbing myself.
For the first year I focused on alpine climbing. Then bad weather forced me to experiment with rock climbing and discovered that I actually enjoyed the physical nature of rock climbing much more.
I climbed a little for the next few years, but my true focus during this time was extreme skiing. Until 2001, when I broke both my feet and my jaw in a skiing accident. During my recovery I resorted to training my upper body, as a way to stay sane. Because of this my focus shifted back to rock climbing - Which is what I have been doing ever since, without looking back!
How important are ethics in climbing and what are yours all about?
Ethics are very important to climbing, they shape the sport. However, I find it very difficult to answer this question, because ethics are different for all aspects of climbing - I believe in climbing as simply as possible, in ascending a piece of rock by your chosen path with as little interference as possible. I have nothing against bolting where there is no natural protection, but do not agree with manufacturing holds. I believe that to climb a multi-pitch wall one must go from the bottom to the top without leaving the wall, but i do not mind what others do - Climbing is about setting and achieving your own personal goals!
What is so special about climbing? What causes the passion and obsession with which you practice your sport?
I love the way climbing challenges me both physically and mentally. Climbing makes me appreciate the moment, and strips away all the layers of pretentiousness which society imposes on us - I feel like it exposes a raw truth, that is often not seen elsewhere.
I also love the climbing lifestyle - It is simple and wholesome. Being in a beautiful area, high above the ground, exposed on a striking line, where nothing matters other than staying in contact with the rock.
I love the feeling of my whole body being absolutely worked after a big day; and what climbing has taught me about myself - It has enabled me to see my inner strength, and exposed what lies hidden deep within me.
Do you have an idol?
I have always admired Lynn HIll, she really broke the way for women climbers. However, I am inspired by anyone who is pushing past their perceived limits and going hard!
How much time do you spend climbing?
About 4 or 5 days per week, but when I am not climbing I am either training for climbing (yoga, running or strength), writing about climbing or thinking about it.
Are there any routes or projects you are particularly proud of?
The achievements that I am most proud of are:
- Climbing L’Arcademecien 5.14b/8c, Ceuse, in 2009. With this achievement I become the first Australasian woman to climb 8c, the third Kiwi to have ever climbed this grade, and the only Kiwi woman to have climbed a difficulty of 8b or above.
- Free climbing the ‘Salathe’ 5.13b/8a+, on El Capitan, in 2011 - This achievement has left the greatest mark on me. Free climbing El Capitan has been a goal of mine for as long as I can remember. In addition, this route pushed my limits further than ever before, and made me grow in many different ways.
- Free climbing Freerider 5.13a/8a in 14 hours a weeks after doing the Salathe (2011). The fastest free female ascent of El Capitan, and another life goal!
Do you have any favourite routes?
I have so many fond memories of routes... It would be very hard to pick one. However, the best single pitch I have ever climbed is the Salathe Headwall - It is amazing climbing, a striking feature and in the most stunning position possible! And the best single climbing day I have ever had was doing Freerider - 35 pitches of climbing with no falls!
What do you want to be remembered for?
Thats not something I have ever really thought about... I want to be the best I can be - At all aspects of climbing. In the process I hope I can inspire people to step outside their comfort zones. To help people live their lives with passion, and to see the beauty of nature.
What would you do, if you could no longer climb?
I hope that never happens...
But if it did I would want to learn to fly in some way, be it gliding or wingsuit flying (actually, this is something I want to do anyway!).
What are your personal strengths?
I think one of my greatest strengths is my mind - My lack of fear and ability to switch off to everything other than climbing.
However, on a physical level, technical, sustained routes are what I am best at.
Sport climbing is what I have done most of, but over the last few years I have been focusing more on trad and big-wall climbing. I think that I am best at hard multi-pitch (trad or sport).
And your weaknesses?
Physically - Power and explosive movement.
Mentally - Putting too much pressure on myself, always wanting everything I do to be perfect and not accepting anything less!