We recently chatted with Alyse Dietel, climber/artist/writer/adventurer currently living in Arizona. Alyse shares incredible wisdom for anyone wishing to learn about her approach to climbing – and how she bounced back from a life-threatening injury.
Tell us about yourself: How did you get into climbing? How many days a week do you climb? What type of climbing do you do?
I started climbing when I was seven. My parents got really tired of looking for me in trees and took me to our local gym. I kicked my parents' butts, so the gym manager asked if I wanted to join their competitive climbing team. I competed nationally for ten years, only getting to climb outside every few months. When I moved up to Flagstaff for college, I began climbing outside more regularly. After my accident, I took up trad climbing. Right now I mostly trad climb, utilizing sport climbing as a “rest day” so that my skin can heal up. I get outside about four or five times a week, depending on the weather. I train in the gym whenever I can’t climb outside or feel like cheating on my rest day.
What’s your pre-climb ritual?
I’m not sure that I really have a pre-climb ritual. Unless getting lost in Sedona on the way to a route counts. I do make a big bowl of steel cut oatmeal for breakfast every time I’m about to have a big day of climbing. I also spend the first ten minutes of the morning hating the fact that I’m awake. Before I climb, I tend to check my knot two or eight times, but that’s pretty much as ritualistic as it gets.
Why do you climb? Keeping it simple is fine, but don't be shy about taking this answer as far down the rabbit hole as you want to go. We'd love to hear it.
The simple answer is: I climb because it’s fun and I like it. But I know there’s much more to it than that. Otherwise I wouldn’t get all twitchy when I can’t climb for a few days. There are a lot of things that entice me to climb. There’s the adventure, the rush, the sense of overcoming something greater than myself... I feel the need to climb in my bones. It’s like this weird urge rooted deep into my being. Maybe I’m not quite as evolved and am a bit more chimp than others. That would explain a lot. Or maybe I just get some kind of sick joy out of the rest of my family thinking I’m insane. That would also explain a lot.
What do you think is your personal biggest weakness in climbing? How do you address it?
My biggest mental weakness is that I am way too hard on myself. My biggest physical weakness is powerful, dynamic moves. In a way, these things go hand in hand. I get to a move that involves a dyno. I don’t want to dyno. I get mad at myself for not wanting to dyno. My mental space collapses. I back off the dyno. Once I started training specifically to improve my dynamic power, my mentality improved as well. I learned that yeah, I probably won’t stick the dyno if in the back of my head there’s a mean little voice calling me a big fat wuss. I had to learn to be nicer to myself, and to be more encouraging. Basically, I had to become my own cheerleader. And it worked! I’m so much better at dynamic movement than I used to be, and that mean little voice has disappeared almost completely. A few months ago, I got the onsight first ascent of a route called Invisibilia. When I was almost at the chains, a powerful, dynamic mini-dyno stood between me and victory. It took about twenty minutes and some serious pep talk, but I was able to make the dyno and therefore the onsight. Before I started training for dynamic power and cheerleading, there’s no way I could have made that move.
What's your favorite climbing gym?
My favorite climbing gym is Planet Granite in Sunnyvale CA. I grew up climbing in this gym and it is just awesome. It’s massive, has fantastic route setters, and includes some unique features such as outdoor bouldering, plenty of cracks, tons of specialized training equipment, and the biggest bathroom/locker room I’ve ever been in. It helps that everyone there is always really friendly and supportive.
What's your favorite place to climb outside?
Although I haven’t climbed too much there yet, I’m going to have to be super cliche and say Yosemite. Yosemite also holds a special place in my heart for other reasons. I was seven months old when I first summited and spent the night on top of Half Dome in my sesame street sleeping bag. My mom and I later climbed Snake Dike on Half Dome for her 50th birthday, and she got remarried at Glacier Point. Recently my dad and I climbed Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne. It was a very special and stunningly gorgeous experience, and one I will never forget. This summer I’m planning on doing a bunch of climbing in Yosemite and I’m very excited!
If you could give a single tip to a new climber, what would it be?
I think that the most important thing I could say (and have said) to a new climber is that there is no place for your ego in climbing. I have seen people’s egos deny them safety, make them feel badly when they shouldn’t, pressure people into doing things they are uncomfortable doing, and ignore tips and valuable lessons that they could badly use. Your ego does you absolutely no good when it comes to climbing. If you want to have fun, climb hard, be safe, and want others to enjoy climbing with you, you absolutely need to be humbled at all times. Everyone makes mistakes, your way is not always the best or right way, there’s a good chance you are not the best in the world, and there is always something new to learn. Keep these things in mind and you’ll find that climbing is the best sport in the world.
Tell us about a time you were in a funk and felt like your climbing skill wasn’t improving. How’d you get out of it?
When I first started trad climbing, it was pretty frustrating. I was climbing 5.13 sport and just didn’t understand why I couldn’t seem to climb hard trad as well. I made the mistake of trying to scare myself into sending a few very hard trad routes, and ended up just scaring myself away from trad. I finally realized just how different of a style trad climbing was and just how much there was to learn about it. I had been decently comfortable taking falls leading sport routes, but with trad climbing I was back at square one. So I sat down and thought about what exactly makes me so afraid and wrote it down along with a solution, which turned into a blog post (Three Steps to Getting Over Your Fear of Falling). Once I had enforced these new solutions, I began seeing trad as much more of a process. I had to be patient with it, and patience is most definitely not a strong suit of mine.
Given how much you climb, what are some techniques you use to prevent injury?
To prevent injury, I try to do a lot of cross-training. It’s super important to keep muscles you don’t regularly use active, so that when you do use them they’re not all rusty and weak and injury prone. For my cross-training I run, do some light yoga, and do opposition exercises like push-ups. I also have gotten a lot better at listening to my body. If I feel like I need to rest, I rest. If I’m injured, I wait until I heal. Your body and its functions will never improve if you don’t allow yourself to recover.
What was your "aha moment" with FrictionLabs?
When I first stuffed my hand into a bag of Unicorn Dust, I immediately noticed that it felt very grippy. My “aha” moment was when, mid-climb, I prepared to chalk up and realized that I didn’t need to. The chalk was still on my hands. It kept them dry, coated them perfectly, and didn’t blow off in a flurry when I shook out.
Anything else you want to share that you think readers might be interested in?
Four years ago this September, I fell off a cliff. I broke my spine in two places and shattered my pelvis, along with a few other injuries (you can read the story in my blog, it’s called The Fall). I was paralyzed from the waist down, and the doctors told me that there was a good chance I would never leave my wheelchair. But six months and a lot of hard work later, I proved them wrong (on the blog: The Recovery). About a year after that, I sent my hardest sport route at the time. A lot of people are familiar with my story, and many who have been injured reach out to me. They all want to know the secret. Even people who aren’t injured and are just curious want to know, what did I do? How? Why? What’s the big secret? For anyone out there who is injured and looking to recover, I’ll tell you. The secret is this: there is no secret. Yes, you read that correctly. There is no secret. All you have to do, is DO. I recovered because I wanted to and because I tried hard. I didn’t do acupuncture, I didn’t visit a shaman, and I am most definitely not superhuman. I just DID it. People say “oh, but it’s not that simple!” It really is that simple. Really. So if you’re reading this and you have doubts, let me tell you, we are not different. You are just as strong and just as capable. But life does not care about your excuses. If you want something done, you have to try. YOU are the only person standing in your way. Whatever your “this” is, you’ve got this.
Where can readers learn more about you?