Pushing the Limits

It’s not a lack of motivation that hinders Brad Gobright’s rock climbing. It’s too much motivation. Brad is unstoppable – he keeps on going, climbing the next hardest climb and pushing himself to the max. But when does motivation turn into recklessness? We spoke to Brad to hear more about his story “Pushing the Limits” and how he keeps his passion for climbing from becoming senseless.

I started climbing as a kid, getting my parents to drive me to the climbing gym all the time. I wasn’t really into team sports – I preferred running and jumping around, so climbing was good for that. In high school I made a friend who climbed as well and after a while the two of us started heading out to the real rocks to climb. Those were probably the most dangerous climbing years of my life – we had no idea what we were doing!

I dropped out of my first year of college and hit the road – and that’s when my climbing really got serious and became a main part of my life. It’s all I did. I travelled around, climbing wherever and whenever I could. I improved a lot and absolutely loved every minute of it. Climbing puts you in some amazing places – you’re out in the beautiful outdoors, on these unique mountains, with no one else around. It’s pretty special. It’s also a massive mental and physical workout which is something I really love about it.

I don’t pretend to be a super physically gifted climber or anything – I know climbers who are definitely stronger than I am. But I think with me, it’s my motivation. It’s my drive and passion for climbing. I honestly live and breathe climbing and if I could do it 24/7, I would. And I think that’s where my problems began to be honest!

At one point in time I was literally climbing whenever I could. I was pretty fit and I’d had a lot of successes – not only with climbing with ropes but also free climbing and free soloing [without the use of any ropes]. I just kept going – climb after climb. I was really pushing myself to do hard climbs, challenging myself to do free solos that I possibly wasn’t ready for. Climbing is definitely dangerous – I’d never deny that – but when I was doing these climbs I wasn’t thinking about that at all. I was in the zone, pushing myself physically and mentally, in a small bubble of focus. And it was this mindset that started to change things for me.

I had a succession of injuries and falls – I broke my toes, my left ankle twice, my right ankle once and my elbow. Each time I just went straight back to climbing as soon as I could, probably not as fit or as healed as I should have been. But then I fell and I broke my back. There was a big winter storm coming in and it was going to shut the route for the season – I wasn’t going to be around when it reopened so it was my last chance to climb it. I was 90% ready – but not 100%. And, sure enough, I fell and hurt myself.

I was so frustrated but actually, breaking my back was the best thing that could have happened at that point. It forced me to have some time off to heal and that gave me time to think, to slow down and to assess what I’d been doing. I knew I was being dangerous and reckless with my climbing but it was something I had chosen to ignore. Breaking my back made me realise I shouldn’t ignore it. It ended up being such a positive experience for me. Once I’d recovered, I was super motivated to get back to climbing. But I was also refreshed, fit and healthy – mentally and physically. And this made a huge difference to my climbing. I think I’ve done some of my best climbs since I broke my back – including setting the speed record for El Capitan’s “The Nose” (even though this has since been broken again).

It was something that I never thought I’d do but now I regularly take time out from climbing. Taking a breather every now and then has improved my climbing hugely and also means I’m less inclined to rush into a climb and do something dangerous. I know it makes me a better climber – in more ways than one. And after all, the rock will always be there!

To read more about Brad’s story, click here.

Photographs by Drew Smith.

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