Pushing the limits

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Brad Gobright may just be the best climber you’ve never heard of. Discover Interesting sat down with the record-breaking free soloist to talk about climbing, dealing with danger and his journey to conquer his greatest obstacle – his own mind.

I feel like if you'd asked me 10 years ago to talk about climbing and dealing with adversity, I wouldn't have known what you were talking about at all. And if you asked me 10 years in the future, I'd probably have way better answers for you. So, for those of you reading, I'm giving you guys a heads up that I'm going to try to give you smart, thoughtful answers, but by no means do I have everything figured out perfectly right now. I'm improving as time goes on, and you’ve kind of got me in the middle here. I love climbing so much. My friends do too, but I don’t know…I really love it. I’ve just dedicated myself to it. For the last 10 years, it's all I've done.The biggest thing with climbing is that it just puts you in some amazing places.You're always out in the beautiful outdoors, up on this unique mountain, with no one else around- it's just an amazing experience.

When I'm in Yosemite Valley, I'm so happy. For climbers, it’s the holy grail. It's mind-blowing. I know when I'm there, it's going to be an amazing experience. I might be scared at times or physically exhausted, but it's always going to be fun in some way.On top of that, it's a real physical and mental workout, too. It's not like I’m super physically gifted or anything (I know climbers that are definitely stronger than I am), but I feel with me it’s my motivation, drive and passion for climbing that's got me where I am today, that makes me different to the others.

“When I'm in Yosemite Valley, I'm so happy.
For climbers, it’s the holy grail”

I started climbing as a kid. My parents would take me to this climbing gym every week that had just opened near our house. I wasn't really into team sports, but I did like running and jumping around, so climbing was good for that. In high school I met someone who climbed, and we started going outside, taking on the real rock in places like Joshua Tree National Park and learning how to do everything by ourselves. We had to learn everything the hard way. There were professional climbers back in the day that I'd watch in the movies; guys like Dan Osman, and Ron Cowl, John Backer, Peter Croft and Chris Sharma. They really inspired us. Honestly, whilst we weren’t doing anything particularly difficult, I feel like it might have been some of my most dangerous years in climbing. We really didn’t know what we were doing. I just didn't have the physical strength I have now. I had some close calls way back in the day. I got to this point where I was starting to try harder stuff, and maybe I wasn't quite ready for it.

Now I'm trying to look for that so I can avoid that. Climbing's definitely dangerous - I totally understand that. I don’t think I've reached the point where I'm extremely safe about it – and that’s the challenge. Checking my ambition, not getting ahead of myself, keeping in mind what’s realistic and what’s not. I think I'm improving as a climber, both physically and mentally. I've just got to slow down my progress, get a good idea of where I'm going and how quickly I'm progressing. I didn’t really think about that stuff before. Before I'd do it and get hurt.

Honestly, I've had a lot of accidents. I broke my toes, I've broken my right ankle twice, my left ankle once, broke my back, and then broke my elbow. That's all in the last 10, 15 years. With the back injury I was definitely just being reckless. God I was climbing so much. I hadn't taken a break in so long. The injury forced me to rest. In a way, it was a relief. It was a really intense season. At the time I was doing a lot of hard and scary climbing. My motivation was pretty high and I think I got a little ahead of myself. A big winter storm was coming and it was going to close the route for the year. I wasn't going to be around when it reopened, and it was my last chance to do it. On top of that, I was being filmed and I really wanted that climb in the film, so I just decided to go for it. Thinking back on it, I was 90% sure I was ready, but not 100%. Sure enough, I fell and hurt myself.

“Honestly, I've had a lot of accidents”

Recovering from the injury gave me time to think, to realise that I've got to slow down, understand what's dangerous and work out if it's worth it. It’s stuff that I'd always been aware of, but that injury really forced me to stop and think about it a little harder. It ended up being a positive experience for me. The reason I free solo (climbing without a rope) as much as I do is that it's a convenient way to get a lot of climbing in. When you’re free climbing and you have a partner, you've got to make plans, you meet up somewhere and then you go climb. You’ve got to wait for them. They’ve got to wait for you. It's just more time consuming. But with free soloing you just go out there whenever you want and do a load of climbing by yourself. You’ve got your chalk bag, your climbing shoes and you're just climbing.

When I'm free soloing, it's usually climbs that are very easy for me. Stuff I really know well. I’m in the zone but I'm not as focused. I can just kind of relax and enjoy myself, and break out of that bubble, take in my surroundings, look around and enjoy the beauty of being up there on the rock. But Hairstyles & Attitudes in Eldorado Canyon, that was the exception. It’s definitely the hardest climbing I've ever done without a rope. It has amazing exposure and it's so high off the ground It’s not one of those climbs I could just go out and do after work, and just be like, "Oh, that was a fun time," and that'd be that.

This took a lot of planning. I did it many, many times with a rope, and when I finally went for it without a rope I’d gone through a whole process of getting to the point mentally to finally go for it. I was in that small bubble of focus where I wasn't thinking about anything other than the climb. It really took me to my free soloing limit. Obviously when I was pulling over the top, I was so happy and psyched, but it was quite a process to get there. If I’m honest I wouldn't say it was 100% enjoyable, or something I'm going to free solo again.

I've been in other situations with climbing with a rope and it works the same, where I start to get to the point where it’s really hard and I stop enjoying it. I think it's impotrtant to realise when it's no longer become fun because when I'm not having fun, I'm not climbing very well. All the best climbs I've done in my life have been because I was so happy to be doing it, but I get suckered into trying stuff that's too hard and I'm not even that into it.

I want to succeed as a climber and do the harder climbs, but I also want to do stuff that I enjoy. I know I can find like that middle ground - something that's fun and that I can be proud of. But knowing that people are going to see my climbs, that I’m going to inspire others, it definitely adds to the reward of doing these climbs. It feels good, because I like to know I'm inspiring people. The guys that I really admired when I started out, I’m in their shoes now. So I’ll just keep climbing.