If you haven’t heard of Angie Payne, believe me when I say that she’s a pretty rad lady. If you need some proof, the now 31-year-old has done everything from winning national competitions, to bouldering V13, to taking on some seriously sketchy adventures. Read on for her thoughts on today’s comps, working a “real” job, and what it feels like to now be an “old” climber.
CXC: Since being a part of our personal dream team podium at ABS Nationals in 2015, it seems that you’ve shifted your focus to outdoor adventures. Was this a turning point for you? If so, what inspired your shift in focus?
AP: Oh yeah, that was one of my most memorable podiums. It felt pretty special to stand up there as one of the older competitors, alongside two other older competitors who I have been competing with for a very long time. It was made a little more special by the fact that during finals, I was talking to AJ (Alex Johnson) about how things just didn’t feel quite the same anymore. Maybe it was because the crowd seemed less enthusiastic, or maybe because I was less enthusiastic, or maybe because we have just been doing this for a long time. Whatever it was, I remember actually saying to her (sappy as it sounds), “It has sort of lost its magic.” I was surprised to make the podium, and so it felt like a little bit of that “you never know” magic came back in that moment. That was certainly a turning point, even before the competition was over. That conversation I had with AJ was pretty representative of a shift in my focus. I’m not sure that anything inspired it, really, other than 18 years of competing. It wears on a person, physically and mentally, and at some point I just needed to slow down a bit. Interestingly enough, two days after standing on the podium, I was en route to Ua Pou, which was something completely different than anything I had ever done before, and a completely different world than the world of comp climbing.
CXC: I recently saw the trailer for Poumaka, which looks like it was an epic, and quite frankly sketchy, adventure. Why did you choose to take on this project? What were some highlights of the trip?
AP: The invitation to go to Ua Pou was one that was perfectly timed and hard to pass up. Mike Libecki, who I had gone to Greenland with in 2012, called me about a month before the departure date and said there was an opening. He warned me up front that it would be “suffery”, which is not a small statement coming from Mike. I was just climbing at the time and had no obligations, so I accepted. I guess I was looking for a challenge, and knew that this would be one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips.
Ua Pou is a gorgeous place. It’s an island out in the middle of the South Pacific that is covered in jungle with towers emerging sporadically from the sea of foliage. The camp where we spent most of our time was at the base of one of these towers (Poumaka), with a view of the surrounding jungle and the ocean in the distance. Every evening there was a torrential rain shower, but most evenings we also enjoyed some of the most beautiful light and scenery I’ve ever seen.
The team was also great. I had traveled with Mike and Keith Ladzinski before (to Greenland) so I knew them pretty well, and Andy Mann is incredibly nice and easy to get along with. I didn’t realize how much I gained from the trip until I was home, and I’m still realizing it today, I guess. In short, the trip was a huge challenge for me. Everything about it was challenging, from the weather to the terrain to the belaying and cleaning (I didn’t climb, just followed). I spent most of the trip feeling out of my element and scared. Mike is incredibly safe, so I never feared for my life because of anything he did, but I knew my level of inexperience and was scared I’d mess something up. It slowly wore me down, and there were many moments when I didn’t want to be there. But in the end, I had one of those dig-deep and suck-it-up moments when I had to clean the final pitch in horrible conditions at night. I felt like a superhero when I stood on top of that thing, and it’s one of my proudest moments, I think.
CXC: What kind of climbing or adventuring are you focused on now? Do you have any projects or upcoming trips?
AP: Right now, my schedule is pretty hectic and full with work and climbing, but I haven’t had much time to do exotic “adventuring” or big trips. Don’t get me wrong — adding a full-time job to my plate while still trying to climb at a high level has certainly been an adventure in its own right! But mostly I am sticking around Colorado, being a weekend warrior, trying to maintain sanity by heading into the mountains when I can and play on some boulders. I have a few boulder problems I’d like to finish up this season. I’m also trying to focus more on learning more about photography and practicing that (you know, in all my free time…;)….). That’s an adventure too — it’s pretty intimidating and overwhelming to be a complete gumby in that world!
CXC: Last we talked you were leaving your job as a tech for a gastroenterologist (good riddance colonoscopies!). What have you been doing lately for work?
AP: I can’t say I miss watching colonoscopies everyday, that’s for sure. I do miss the people I worked with, but I never find myself thinking, “Dang, I really wish I was watching a colonoscopy right now.” After that job, I spent some time just climbing, went to Ua Pou, traveled a little on some other short trips, etc. Last September, I took a position with USA Climbing as the Communications & Marketing Coordinator. So for the past 11 months I have been working there full time. It has been a huge life transition, not without its challenges, but it has also been a great learning experience. Climbing a muddy tower in the jungle on a remote island taught me a lot about myself, but this year I’ve been reminded that I can also learn a lot about myself in a more mundane setting. Sitting in an office from 9-5 is enlightening in different (but not less important) ways than traveling.
CXC: Between the pressure to perform, staying healthy, and keeping up with social media, young climbers have a lot to deal with these days. As an experienced comp climber, what advice do you give to young competition climbers?
AP: There’s a lot of advice I’d give the younger competition climbers, or my younger self. Focus on your own climbing, try not to be distracted by worrying about what everyone else is doing, stay focused, believe in yourself, don’t self-sabotage, try to have fun even if you don’t climb your best, the list goes on and on. But if there’s one single piece of advice to sum it all up, I’d say keep it all in perspective. Ten years down the road, you won’t remember most of your results from competitions you participated in. I didn’t believe this long ago — I thought I’d definitely remember that one comp because I won, and I’d remember that other comp because I did that one move with that crazy beta, and I’d remember that comp when I placed blah blah blah behind so-and-so. And guess what? I forgot 98% of my results. Probably closer to 99.9%, actually. What I do remember are select moments when I tried my absolute hardest, or did a move that was a weakness I had been working on, or laughed myself sore with my friends. Odds are you’ll forget what place you got, and who you beat, and who beat you, but you’ll remember what I consider to be the most important stuff.
CXC: Do you ever feel like an “old” climber compared to young guns on the scene?
AP: Ha! Of course! I’ve been feeling “old” compared to the young guns for at least five years now. A few years ago I came to the realization that some of my competitors actually weren’t born when I did my first climbing competition — it took me a few minutes to wrap my mind around that! Like anything, there are certainly pros and cons. I still feel good physically, but I won’t lie and say that I feel like I did when I was 18. Recovery takes longer, and I’ve reached the “injury maintenance” phase in my climbing career now. I have much more responsibility now and less time to climb, in general, so that adds an element of difficulty to staying in good shape. But overall, I think there are more pros than cons. I have a much healthier perspective now than I once did, and I appreciate climbing more now that I have more limited time to do it. I’d like to think that I’m also a smarter climber after all these years, though I occasionally fall back into bad habits of my younger climber self.
CXC: What excites you most about climbing these days?
AP: This is an interesting question for me to try to answer at this point in my life. Some days I ask myself this very question and struggle to find an answer. Climbing has been my life for 20 years now, and the motivation cycle seems to be a bit more drawn out now. I have months where I feel pretty unmotivated, but then I find a boulder problem I like and want to get stronger for, or go to a new area, and I get all psyched up again. I’ve learned to roll with that cycle in both outdoor climbing and competition climbing. But now I also work a full time job in the world of competition climbing, so in a way, my life involves more climbing than it ever did. It’s very cool and exciting to see how strong the young climbers are these days and it’s incredible to see some true climbing prodigies emerging here and there. It has been harder this past year, however, to feel motivated by competitions, simply because when I am at them in the context of an organizer, it is a massive amount of work. Once the actual competition begins, I hardly see any of it. It’s a strange flip from what my life was before, and that’s something I’ve struggled to understand this past year. I’d say that the part of climbing that excites me the most right now is going outside with a few friends and being in the mountains. The wildflowers in Colorado just bloomed over the past month, and I feel like I’m in a fairytale when I go out bouldering. And that definitely gets me psyched, because you know…fairytales are exciting 😉
CXC: I know it is hard to predict because one’s relationship with climbing is constantly changing, but how do you see yourself growing with climbing in the future? Are there specific directions you see it taking you or ways it will be a part of your life as you grow older?
AP: This is a huge unknown for me right now. I know that climbing will always play some part in my life. I also know that the day will come when I might need to boulder a little less intensely than I do now, simply because bouldering is really REALLY hard on the body. I began as a sport climber, and I’ve always thought that some day I’ll return to my routes (pardon the stupid pun). I’d like to think that I will let it lead me and not try to force anything…and just see where I end up. Only time will tell…………..
Thank you, Angie, for chatting with us! Best of luck with “adulthood”. Can’t wait to catch up in a few more years and see where it all takes you!