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How to Live Your Passion: One Climber's Story

Craig Pope in Trout Creek, ORThink you love the outdoors? Meet Craig Pope. Craig is a climber whose life virtually revolves around rock and ice. His home is suspended on rock walls and frozen waterfalls, and in place of a ceiling is the limitless sky.

Most climbers, tied to family, careers and financial obligations, only dream of such an existence. Craig makes it happen.

Growing up in Moscow, Idaho, Craig's early playgrounds were Chimney Rock in north Idaho’s panhandle and the Tetons in Wyoming. But after three years of studying music performance at the University of Idaho, he realized that any future career would merely serve to support his love for vertical challenges. He needed a job in which he could set his own hours and still make enough money to survive on. 

Craig had done concrete work over the summer for several years so he decided to start his own business. Today, his company offers everything from structural foundations to custom designs for driveways, patios, stairways, countertops and more. 

Craig Pope in Hyalite CanyonNow 28 and unmarried, Craig books most of his jobs between May and November. During these months he resigns to be a weekend warrior, climbing at local crags and hitting the climbing gym to keep in shape and hone his technique.

Late fall, he packs his 1995 Nissan 4x4 and heads out for five to six months on the road. After several years of this, Craig now knows and is known by local climbing communities all over the Pacific Northwest and in Canada. He rarely finds himself without a climbing partner. If he does, he sometimes opts to free-solo, climbing unroped.

Craig is fully aware of the risks inherent in climbing, protected or not. His choice to free-solo is not made lightly. It is purely out of passion and a sense of communion with the rock and ice that he leaves the ground. Among the routes Craig has free-soloed are Outer Space, rated 5.9 (rock)¹, in Leavenworth, Washington, and The Sceptre, rated WI5 (water ice)², in Hyalite Canyon, Montana.

Craig's favorite medium for climbing is mixed rock and ice. He enjoys picking lines and appreciates the aesthetics and variety of these natural formations. This December, he'll be back in Hyalite where he expects to redpoint³ last season’s project, Northwest Passage, an M11/WI7 rated mixed climb. Spring of 2011, he'll head up to Alaska for more mixed alpine climbing. He's planning a trip to Norway in 2012.
Craig Pope in Hyalite Canyon
When asked what it takes to dedicate one's self to such a lifestyle, Craig responded frankly. “It takes a certain level of selfishness. I climb where I want to, not necessarily where my climbing partners might be going.” He adds, “I miss a lot of birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and other gatherings. It takes extra effort to maintain close relationships with family and friends, and I've had women end relationships with me because I'm away so much.”

Time and again, other climbers express envy of Craig's lifestyle. "Dude, I wish I could do what you do!" To which Craig always answers, "You can.” He explains, “It's all about priorities. You can't do what I do and live a life of luxury. What will you spend that twenty dollars on? Dinner, a movie? Or do you put it away for gas, for the next road trip?”

Craig continues, “You have to be willing to dirtbag it. In my world, I don't eat what I want to, I eat what I can. Actually, I make healthier food choices this way; in addition to saving money, I have to be very conscious of my well-being. The majority of my decisions are based around climbing. The mountains are my home. I sleep best under the stars."

What’s your passion, and how do you make time for outdoor recreation in your life?

Photo credits: Top image (in Trout Creek, OR) by Ben Herndon; ice-climbing images (in Hyalite Canyon, MT) by Marko Pujic.

1: Rock climbing ratings by the Yosemite Decimal System. 2: Mixed climbing and water ice climbing route ratings. 3: Redpoint: to lead a route without falling on the rope.

Craig Pope in Hyalite Canyon

Posted on at 12:05 PM

Tagged: Climbing, Ice Climbing, Idaho, Rock Climbing and craig pope

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I just have to comment: I have a beautiful woman who supports me in the months I am gone being selfish. . .lol

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Lynne C Staff Member

I hear she's an impressive climber too! Lynne


Yeah she is. climed an .11 finger crack second time climbing. . .whew. . .couple more years, and I'll have some stiff competition!!!


Yeah she is. climed an .11 finger crack second time climbing. . .whew. . .couple more years, and I'll have some stiff competition!!!


Sweet climbing. I hope you'll check out this rap I wrote about the great outdoors


Nice, great story!



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