Both on and off the wall, Colette McInerney is shaping the image of climbing. She humbly balances climbing 5.14 (she recently sent China Crisis, 5.14/8b+) with an incredibly talented and creative eye for capturing the climbing world around through photography, videos, interviews and writing. As if we weren’t in love with her already, she also has a kick-ass sense of fashion – totally the kind of girl who we’d want to go grab a beer with after climbing. Lucky for us, we got a chance to talk with Colette about all of the above and share our interview on Crux Crush.
CXC: You recently sent your first 5.14a!! (Congrats!) What was that experience like? And also, how do you feel now, that you are a “5.14 climber”?
CM: Thanks!!! As you can imagine I’m very, very excited! I wouldn’t say the experience was much unlike any other of my hard red-points. By hard I mean hard for me, like not my style, or a route that is taking me a lot of time. I easily can climb on one route for a month!
I climbed on this particular route with little expectations, which I think helped me. It never got too mental, or intense, like some red-points can. I made it a priority to climb on other routes while I was working this line. This is not an approach I usually take, but it really worked for me on this trip. Obviously this method really comes down to time, which I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of, and it’s not a luxury every climber has.
When I did the route, I wouldn’t say I felt any different as a climber. It just seemed like the natural progression. But since then, it’s hard to ignore the praise you get from your community, and in a surface sense, it does feel like some sort of validation for all the time I’ve put into the sport. I’m hoping to run with this mental confidence and continue to progress as climber.
CXC: Do you draw inspiration from climbing with other women? What’s different (if anything) about when you climb with other women, versus climbing with Joe [Kinder, pro climber and boyfriend]?
CM:I feel really fortunate to have started climbing with women. There are obviously more men in the sport, so it’s definitely more common for girls to start climbing with their boyfriend, or brother, or whatever. I definitely draw a different sort of inspiration from other female climbers. There’s something visually about the way a woman moves or how she decides to do a sequence that I’m always able to relate to more as a female. Obviously height and those things come into play as well. It’s great to have someone of your stature (and shoulder strength) to work out beta with.
I’d definitely say it’s a different experience when I climb with other women now. But I believe it has more to do with changing climbing partners than whatever sex they are. Having a regular climbing partner, like Joe is for me, is great because you have so much trust in that person, you don’t have to explain yourself, etc. But at the same time when I climb with other people, and woman specifically, I find myself making less excuses and going for it a little harder. I definitely get a little of that sensation, like, if she can do it, I can do it. And that’s rad.
CXC: In a video you and Joe made, you asked a bunch of climbers “why do you climb?” So, I wanted to ask you the same question. Why do you climb?
CM: Haha! Nice! Geeze, climbing is my whole life at this point. I couldn’t imagine not doing it. Everything in my life is somehow related to climbing, work, my friends, where I live, where I go. It’s a slightly unhealthy relationship, but I’m willing to deal!
I think at first I loved physicality of climbing, the workout, the exhaustion. Then the community was a big aspect to me. Now I love where climbing brings me and all the traveling and experiences I’d been able to have because I’m a climber.
CXC: Do you have any favorite places you’ve traveled?
CM: We have completely fallen in love with Catalunya, Spain. I think the obsession definitely started from the ample amount of rock climbing here, but it has definitely grown from there. Now we have a community of friends here, our favorite restaurants, an appreciation of the cultural nacks, etc. It’s becoming more like home to me every trip.
I would say South Africa would be the second place I visited that was completely taken by. That country is so diverse on so many levels. From the landscapes, to the social economic situation, to the mezcla of culture and languages and the juxtaposition of beauty and poverty. It’s truly such a fascinating place for me. I would go back there in a heartbeat just to travel and experience the life there again.
CXC: Speaking of all your traveling, what’s it like spending much of your time moving from place to place? Do you have a home base?
CM: We’ve been moving around pretty consistently for the past 5-6 years. We have stints where we stop in places for half a year or something, and work. But for the last 3 years we’ve probably moved around every 2-3 months. I love living this way, but it’s definitely not for everybody. It’s not something I ever like to bitch about because it’s my choice, and I feel really lucky to live in a way that makes me happy. But there are always moments when logistics get complicated or you feel detached from friends and family and they can be unpleasant. Sometimes the idea of a solid place to come back to is a very comforting feeling that you don’t always have when you live like we do.
I wouldn’t say we have a home base. We frequent about 3-4 places, Western Slope of CO, St George UT, and Spain. We have a storage unit in Salt Lake City and store a lot stuff at Joe’s parents house in Colorado Springs. We’re pretty adaptable though and I tend to get comfortable anywhere pretty easily. I guess thinking back I never was much of a homesick kid!
CXC: In an interview from last year on ClimbFind you talked about starting to get into bolting. Have you been doing any more of that this past year?
CM: I actually have not been doing any more bolting. I am definitely psyched to learn more about developing though. The very little experience I had was awesome! I think if I had an area like Ten Sleep on Smith at my disposal I would be more eager to learn. Giant limestone caves are definitely an intimidating place to start learning to bolt. At this point, I feel like we travel so much I always have a lifetime of hard projects anywhere we end up. Maybe when that slows down and I’m in a more permanent place, I’ll be more excited to pick up a drill again.
CXC: We love snacks. Got any favorite snacks to eat while on the road?
CM: I have a serious sweet tooth! So I almost always have some sort of cookie or sweet in my pack. I found these chocolate covered rice cakes while we’ve been in Spain, which are really good and make me feel less guilty after eating pain au chocolat for weeks on end! Honey covered peanuts are a staple. I make this tuna salad mix with black beans, corn, cilantro and avocado that’s great with crackers. Totally yummy.
CXC: You seem to be a prolific videographer! And you write a ton of interviews with other climbers. It seems like you have found a way to incorporate your creative side with your athletic side. How important is that to you?
CM: I’ve really just started editing my own pieces. Joe and I have been shooting video together for five years, but he has always done the editing in the past. I would say filming started more as a necessity with sponsorship than a natural passion. But Joe really took to the whole process, and I guess over time I’ve really grown to like making media.
For me this kind of work is absolutely essential to my mental state while being on the road. Anyone who has taken an extended trip knows there is a LOT of down time and that you can only fill this space with books and little hobbies for so long before getting bored. I would say all our work with photos, videos, writing and blogs all came from the need to create something while living a life that was primarily about climbing. I’m definitely multi-faceted and get disillusioned when I only have one focus. Creative work has been the most important asset in creating a healthy balance in my life with traveling and climbing.
CXC: I heard that you wrote a fashion column for Urban Climber when they were still around. Can climbing and fashion be integrated? Also, do you have any fave clothing or brands to wear climbing (or post-climbing)?
CM: Yes that column was sooo fun! I was living in New York City when I started climbing, and fashion wasn’t even something you thought about, clothes and style are just part of city culture. I love fashion, not necessarily as a means to look cute, but more to express yourself, be creative, and differentiate from others. I mean in New York you can wear what ever, when ever, where ever and that concept is just fun to me!
When I started climbing I definitely felt like I lost that creative part of my personality for a time, considering I wear climbing clothes like 90% of the time. There are even some climbing communities where if you dress up a little too much you get these looks like “what?” Like you’re not hardcore enough or are trying too hard or something. I felt that way at first in CO, but now there is an awesome crew of super hawt ladies that always like to dress up and go out and push some great fashion boundaries for climbing.
The funny thing about the type of climbing I do, is that yes, it’s about performance, like you don’t want to freeze, and you can’t wear some skinny jeans that show your butt crack, or you can’t lift your leg in, or whatever, but as long as you’re not doing crazy hiking and are just bouldering or sport climbing, I feel like I can totally get away with the cute jeans and t-shirt look. I mean surf and skate companies are definitely closer to creating fashion forward outdoor apparel, but I feel like there are some great companies in those yoga, hiking lines like NAU, Lole or KAVU, even Marmot that are creating really cool designs for high performance gear.
Personally the thrift store is my go to for climbing garb. I like climbing outside in jeans but good climbing jeans are like one the hardest things to come by. They have to fit perfectly for climbing, the right stretch no bunching and shifting in the wrong places. Plus you know they are going to get destroyed so you don’t want to buy actual nice jeans and wear them climbing. My climbing fashion is kinda like my street fashion, match a couple of expensive things (like I just got a rad pair of Prana pants and a sweet Arc’teryx hoody) with some beater wear. Oh and I’ll live in Verve till I die.
CXC: We always end up going out somewhere post-climb and looking sweaty and chalky. Do you have any “must-haves” in your pack, or tips on how to freshen up for those post-climb beers? Or do you just rock the sweaty/chalky look too?
CM: Haha! Yeah I guess it kinda depends on the situation, like for the camp fire I usually stay in whatever I wore before. But for dinner or the bar, these days I always roll with an extra something in the car, usually a pair jeans, and fresh T-shirt, with some Sanuks or something. Of course I’ve rocked the sweaty chalk look many a times too and nobody judges! Haha!!
CXC: Some people think that climbing seems to be headed in the same direction as surfing and skating, in terms of “image”. For example, how skating and surfing started off as a group of people doing a physical activity, and now it has a very distinct “look” that people associate with it. Some climbers I know are losing their s&%t over this “climbing as sexy” notion, when they feel it is supposed to be “a dirty outdoor sport”. I’m sure you’ve heard this debate before, and I’m wondering what do you think about this?
CM: I guess I kinda feel like climbing has already gone through that whole stage. I mean, climbing has been marketed and tried to be made sexy since the 90’s in Europe. I don’t really think anything different is happening that hasn’t been going on for years. But I also don’t think skate and surf companies creating a “look” has taken away anything from the things that are actually happening in skate and surf culture. Those accomplishments don’t change, just because there’s a cult following of the sport. In general, and definitely in the climbing world as well, there seems to be a lot of need for people to put things in boxes and control what they mean or what they are. Climbing is definitely a sport that doesn’t need those confines. You make climbing what you want, sexy, dirty, in a gym, on a mountain, and take from it what you want. All the other stuff really doesn’t matter.
Thanks again Colette, we really appreciate it!!
You can find Colette blogging her adventures at http://coletteloc.com/ and follow her on Twitter @etteloc24 Colette is a professional climber sponsored by: Five Ten, Petzl, Sterling Rope, Verve, Gregory, and Eastern Mountain Sports
Photo Credits [in order of appearance]: Joe Kinder, Rainer Eder, Colette McInerney (self portrait), Colette McInerney, Joe Kinder, Colette McInerney (self portrait)
-Climb On! Missy