David Allfrey is best known for his unending psych and setting El Cap speed records. However, the 2016 recipient of the Robert Hicks Bates Award for “outstanding accomplishment by a young climber” who has “demonstrated exceptional skill and character in the climbing or mountaineering arts and has outstanding promise for future accomplishment” prefers to be known as a “jack of all trades, with a love for hard free climbing, big mountains, alpine routes, and, of course, big walls.”
Here, David talks about his progression from Yosemite aid climbing to ascending big walls in Baffin Island, staying motivated through injury and financial lulls, and his plans for the upcoming year.
How did you find your love for big walls and climbing in frigid, remote locations?
Once I climbed my first route on El Capitan, The Nose, in 2009, I was hooked. I climbed more and more routes on El Cap and then climbed them faster and faster. I finally hit a point where, while I love them all, they started to have a similar feel—the view is the same—and I knew I wanted to use the skills I was learning to climb in other places.
I really hadn’t climbed anywhere cold until I went to Baffin Island; I’m not sure I had ever worn mountain boots on a big wall until I got there. I’ve always liked the cold, so I didn’t mind it so much, although -30°F temps escalates the seriousness quickly. I knew that [adapting to] the conditions would just be a matter of putting on more clothes while on the portaledge and climbing in thick gloves. But the cold is minor compared to the incredible location, the amazing walls, and the endless potential in a place like Baffin.
WATCH DAVID ALLFREY AND CHEYNE LEMPE CLIMBING IN BAFFIN ISLAND:
How did taking more than six weeks off from climbing this past summer to let your injured finger heal change how you view the sport?
In 10-plus years of obsessed climbing, dislocating my right middle finger was, luckily, the most serious injury I have had. I don’t think it really changed my view of climbing much, although, I was a little demotivated when I hurt myself. I had just bought a new van and was planning to convert it over the summer anyway, so I [became] obsessed with running and my van, and it really helped. I think distraction is the key to overcoming injury.
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You traveled to Morocco for the first time this past fall. What was your experience there like after having taken so much time off over the summer?
Morocco is a really incredible spot. I didn’t climb much, as I was in work mode rigging ropes for photographers and helping to make a film. We worked with a lot of local guys, and it was fun to make friends and catch a glimpse into such a different culture, yet to see that many of these guys are still climbers at heart. That is what makes traveling so wonderful.
You’re known for being one of the happiest, most continually psyched climbers. How do you stay motivated even when you’re freezing, tired, in debt, and unsure you’ll succeed?
I think that has become a reputation that precedes me. I struggle with motivation sometimes, but there are just so many things to do in climbing that I find it easy to fixate on objectives. Right now, I find motivating for big objectives easy: I would love to see the Himalaya, go back to Patagonia, climb in the Alps, go to Africa—there’s no end to the list. What can be hard is motivating for the day-to-day objectives around home and the input required to stay fit. Once I am out climbing, of course I am motivated—there isn’t much else I would rather be doing, even if I am freezing or tired.
Staying motivated through financial lulls has been challenging for me [and] cuts into my mental game more than anything. I really want to take my big wall climbing away from Yosemite and into the other mountains of the world, but to a certain extent that comes down to dollars. But I think this year will be a good one for traveling for me. I just got on The North Face athlete team, which is incredibly exciting. It is going to be awesome to see what doors it opens, and I think it’s going to help me travel more and hopefully realize [my] goal of climbing a big wall on every continent.
Do you have any specific plans or goals for 2017?
2017 looks awesome! I have been home in Las Vegas for the last four weeks enjoying a little time with Carmen (my amazing girlfriend-partner-lovely-lady-friend) and my tiny dog, but [will] be traveling soon to teach clinics at the Ouray Ice Festival and Michigan Ice Fest. I’m also looking forward to a late season trip to Torres del Paine [Patagonia] in February. I want to climb some big walls, but I’m also currently obsessed with sport climbing and trying to “get back in shape,” which is always, hopefully, better than you’ve been before.
What are your hopes for the climbing community as it continues to grow and evolve?
I think we are at an exciting time for climbing. The sport is becoming so popular. I hope that new climbers enjoy climbing both as a lifestyle and an amazing “sport,” because, for many of us, it’s about the locations, the community, the travel, and the focus and drive in life that climbing gives you as much as the climbing itself. I hope that people continue to be inspired by the real mountains, big walls, and traditional climbing, as well as bouldering and sport climbing.
A huge thank you to David for taking time away from “getting back in shape” and preparing for ice climbing clinics to chat about his motivation and plans for 2017. For more about David’s many accomplishments, and to keep up with his travels, you can visit his website and follow him on Instagram.