Someone once asked me who, of my teachers, has made the biggest impact on my life. He came in the form of a climbing mentor—someone who taught me how to make the impossible possible. Climbing can be complex. You have to be able to hold someone else’s life in your hands, as well as your own, and have fun doing it. It’s nothing you can teach yourself. You need someone to bring you into this world on training wheels and help you take them off when you’re ready. That closeness between people is part of what makes climbing so beautiful.
But this story isn’t really about me, it’s about my friend and mentor, Forrest Shafer, and one of his mentors, Tommy Caldwell. Forrest is one of my best friends—just another Colorado kid with big dreams to climb the Longs Peak Diamond. He grew up in Estes Park (Tommy’s hometown), idolizing the big-wall climber while learning the sport from his dad (his very first mentor).
A few months ago, Forrest’s dad ran into Tommy at the Estes Park Mountain Shop. The two got to talking, and the conversation steered towards climbing mentorship (and how important it is). He mentioned that Forrest was getting ready to conquer the Diamond. Sometimes dreams do come true, and Tommy offered to mentor Forrest on his dream climb.
Fast forward a few weeks, and the two are roping up for their day in Rocky Mountain National Park, Forrest getting ready to lead his biggest climb to date, and Tommy getting ready to spend the day as a mentor. “This is one of the only sports where someone of his caliber and experience would go out with a novice climber and have a good time doing it,” Forrest said. “He just enjoys getting out with anybody and everybody as long as there’s a good time to be had.”
The two flew up the mountain and bonded over their Estes upbringing, arriving at the Diamond as the sun came over the ridgeline. They leap-frogged pitches and had soon approached the crux—the part Forrest knew he had to challenge himself to lead. “I was feeling nervous, but as I was getting ready to move into the crux, I had Tommy yelling up encouragement, and I knew I had it. I was tired from trying so hard, and I hurt a muscle in my foot, but I got to the top clean.” The sun rose over the 14,255’ summit of Longs Peak, and time seemed to stop. “I was so excited and Tommy was so psyched for me. It’s been a goal of mine for such a long time. I even had a photo of this climb on my wall that helped get me through physical therapy last year.”
I asked Forrest about his biggest takeaways from the day: “Tommy taught me how to simul-climb, and that’s going to be a real game-changer for me. For the first time, I see the route as a fluid possibility. Not something defined by the limits of the rope.”
Whether your mentor is Tommy Caldwell, your dad, or just a good friend, what matters is that person helps you grow. When it comes down to it, we’re all on the same playing field, just out there to do what we love; and in climbing, it’s an unspoken rule that you go out of your way to pass on the knowledge.
In my case, my climbing mentor and my most impactful teacher are one in the same, because he opened an entire world for me. He introduced me to the technical aspect of outdoor recreation and set me up to keep pushing myself farther. Without Forrest, I’d still be wishing I had met someone, somewhere along the way, to teach me something profound.
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