Mental health disorders and rock climbing

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Depression, addiction, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, severe sadness. Climbers, as humans, can experience any and all of these things. In celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ve stripped down some of our best stories on these topics, stories of icons whose fame pushed them toward isolation, depression, and alcoholism; stories of little rippers whose impulse was to force them to eat so little that it adversely affected not only their climb but their health; Stories about guilt, sadness, and the vortex of self-hatred and abuse that these feelings can lead to; and stories of drug and alcohol abuse that often took the lives of our beloved community members.

These stories are arranged alphabetically by author.



By Ed Douglas

He was the first true icon of climbing sports, famous across France in the 1980s for his daring feats and a bohemian lifestyle. In 2012, fighting depression and botfairy He died in a tragic accident at the age of 52. What happened?

“There was something scary about Patrick Edlinger, who spent his last decade here. A photo of him by Jay Martin Ravel, one of the few photos from his heyday that an older Edlinger—eyes puffed from cigarettes and alcohol—letting on the walls of his house, captures the idea perfectly. … his face is narrow and long, his face framed by a shock of blond hair, his lips slightly intertwined. The whole effect swings dangerously toward a parody of an ’80s rock star, except for the eyes. Edlinger’s gazes are fixed in the middle distance: intense, black – and hungry.”


Written by Nate Drugan

An honest account by a top climber who hit rock bottom

“I woke up while the cops were pulling me out of the car. I had half a gram of heroin, 10 Xanax, a couple of morphine and three needles – enough for at least a year in prison. Not long after the cops started looking for my bag, until Zach, my house manager, showed up in the middle of the road. Zach was fit, working fishing, and had just quit his storage job late at night. I think I called him earlier in the night, to tell him I was going to be late, but I don’t remember. In a way What, find out I was in my religion.”


by Stephanie Forte

This article on anorexia and bulimia was written in 1996 by Stephanie Forte, then 29, and published in climbing Perspective section that year. Forte may have been the first American climber to write about the issue, which required courage, but she notes that she has written about it differently now: “If I wrote this article today, the ending wouldn’t be tied into a bracket,” she wrote to us in an email. “The impact of the eating disorder on my life has been far-reaching and multi-layered.”

“In our little climbing subculture, we have published articles alluding to the fact that eating disorders may be an issue in our sport. They are. Having been anorexic and bulimic for 17 years, I feel I can call myself an expert on the subject. More than half of my life and most of my energy is to this disease. We are so entangled in each other that sometimes I don’t know where to end and begin. She has been my security blanket, my source of strength, my worst enemy, and may take me to an early grave.”


By John Long

Climbing has always been celebrated with drinking and drugs. Many climbers become lifelong alcoholics and addicts, and their families, friends, and climbing partners bear the heavy price. One of climbing’s most famous personalities fell into the pit, but he pulled himself out 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 favorite route) that we all tell the same story, but those of us who are genius in denial, dishonesty, and self-deception have to hear it over and over to hear it at all.” Then we need to listen to it constantly to continue the path. “Eternal awakening.”


Written by Steve Marcusin

50 years ago, Steve Markusen’s father died when a Rapple announcer malfunctioned – he fell 50 feet in front of his two children.

This is a story about that day and beyond: 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 after all these years is about redemption and healing.”


Written by Delaney Miller and Mimi Nissan

Two pioneer climbers of their generation reflect on the way disordered eating has reported climbing.

“Despite being weak, I couldn’t go a day without counting calories, thinking about how much I weighed and all the things I could be if I could be anyone else. Despite all the training, coaches, nutritionists, therapists, and doctors, I still couldn’t Able to stare at the crystal ball and see my escape, because that would admit that I needed to.”


By Alison Osius

Earl Wiggins was a pioneer in free climbing and a soloist in the 1970s and 1980s. (The FA did a Super Track/Luxury Liner in Indian Creek…putting hexes) But in the early 2000s, he committed suicide.

“Wiggins died in December 15 years ago, by hand in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Little is known about the highs and lows he went through, the losses and disappointments it endured, and the kind, striving and restless nature of a person who found his true self — in a miraculous way – In climbing.

Green says he is “stunned” after his friend’s death.

I couldn’t believe it. But you never know what’s going on in people’s lives. Jimmy and I have talked about it for years: Why didn’t he call us? Why didn’t he call his friends? …we were all willing to help, to do anything.

We still don’t know why he did that. “


Written by Stephen Potter

This profile and interview with photographer and climber Cory Richards, the only American to date to have reached an 8,000-meter summit in the winter, discusses Richards’ battles with PTSD, bipolar disorder, and addiction –And why climbing is no longer a healthy part of his life.

On the one hand, what he experienced was a mental health emergency: a terrifying era of ancient trauma coupled with untreated bipolar disorder. On the other hand, Daulagiri saw Richards finally acknowledge his semi-Fustian relationship with climbing — a sport that provided him with wealth, fame, and verification. From external health – it’s no longer sustainable…and it may never have been.”


By Gabriel Turtlett

In her attempt to become a top contender, Turtlett adopted a “deflation to serve” mentality…there were long-term consequences.

“Gaps, you look kind of yellow.”

I rolled my eyes, “No I don’t.”

My father walked in from the other room, agreeing with my then-boyfriend, Mike, “No, he’s right, you be yellow.’

but where? I asked myself. Later that evening, I checked the mirror and found it in my eyes and skin. I was surprised I missed it. Soon, I got a call from my doctor. According to my last round of blood work, I had liver failure, which explains the yellowing of my skin and eyes. I hung up and didn’t think much about it. A few weeks later, I competed in my last two youth sports and speed bands with a broken right ring finger and a partial rupture of the A4 pulley tendon. Three days later, I was hospitalized with anorexia.”


Written by Caroline Treadway

Did you get on the Kelter board? Even if you haven’t, you must have climbed onto Ian Powell’s wards. He was one of the industry’s most influential shapers. Then he went to prison. 11 years free, and has since changed the industry once again as one of the co-founders of Kelter.

“Ian Powell hit the bottom Three years ago on Thanksgiving in a trash can near Denver. He was freezing under a layer of rubbish, he was sick with steroids and hadn’t eaten in days. He had no friends who weren’t addicts or criminals. He didn’t remember the last time he climbed, but it had been two or three years. Most importantly, he was not producing art. He needed to make art. Sifting through the trash, he found some papers and pens and drew until his hands went numb.”


Written by Caroline Weekes

Eating disorders, dangerous dieting, and poor body image are prevalent in the climbing community. We’re all playing a game of gravity, but what happens when we push our bodies and minds into unhealthy areas — and how do we stop them?

I am intimately familiar with anorexia and bulimia. My battle with an eating disorder has driven me into periods of hunger, bingeing, purging, and endless self-abuse through diet and exercise. After two stints in inpatient treatment centers, a lot of treatment, and more mistakes than I care to mention, two years ago, at age 22, I finally reached what I would tentatively call a healthy relationship with food.”

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