Five Questions With Climber and Deadpoint Magazine Editor Mike Williams

Our athletes and ambassadors shred gnar and send hard lines, but there’s much more behind the scenes: other careers, balancing family life, creating art, giving back. To dig deeper into the adventure lifestyle, we’ve created Five Questions, an ongoing feature asking OR athletes the hard questions. And sometimes more than just five.

How did you get started in your sport?

I have no idea! I feel like climbing up stuff has always been a part of me since my earliest memories of climbing up the doorframes in our house. I remember my mom buying me a section of rope from the hardware store some time when I was in grade school and tying it to a short 2x4 to create a makeshift grappling hook that I’d throw into the crooks of trees to access the first branches. Does that count?

I got into real rock climbing, though, when I went to college in Brevard, North Carolina, near Looking Glass Rock. One of my first days there, I saw a guy with a Half Dome T-shirt and we became instant friends, both claiming we knew more than we did about how to climb. We taught ourselves how to shudder up runout 5.6 slabs and fortunately made it through the learning curve unscathed.

What keeps you climbing?

Mostly the fact that I wouldn’t know what else to do! I still love it, though, and it’s the diversity found here at my home crag, the New River Gorge, that keeps me motivated. If I get tired of projecting sport climbs, I can climb trad routes for a while or go bouldering. With 3,000 routes here, I’ve always got the opportunity to try something new. When the weather craps out, I really enjoy just hiking and rappelling in search of new cliffs and routes. This area will never be tapped out and looking for the next cool chunk of rock is half the fun.

What is your typical day/week schedule?

I’m fortunate to be able to work from home as the editor of Deadpoint Magazine. My typical day starts with a few hours of work, which usually includes scanning the web for climbing news, getting in touch with athletes, writing an article or two, keeping the website up to speed, or working on our print magazine. I also have a steady stream of tasks keeping the NRG guidebook updated. Currently, I’m excited about working with Outdoor Research and a company called Rakkup to create a really functional guidebook App that has some amazing features like GPS navigation. It’s still in the testing phase, but so far I’m really impressed. You can plug in the route you want to climb, follow the arrow on your smartphone, and when you get there, your phone says, “Rakkup!” It’s really cool.

I’m usually ready to blow off work by 1 p.m. and head out for some climbing, exploring with my dog, bolting or rebolting. It’s really great to be able to live so close to my favorite climbing area.

Finish this sentence: In high school, I was ________________.

A burnout waste of space with a Nirvana T-shirt, chain wallet, long hair, and a flannel shirt, unbuttoned, of course.

Any advice to young people getting started in your sport?

Be safe and don’t get hurt! I think beginner climbers often enter the sport of climbing thinking that taking real risks is just part of the game. But if you look at the best climbers, you realize that they are able to calculate risk effectively because of their base of knowledge and experience. You don’t usually see the pros getting carried out from the crag on a stretcher, it’s the young ones that pushed it way too far beyond their ability level. There’s plenty of time to build that base of experience, so take it slow. You’ll never get better at climbing if you’re lying in traction with two broken legs. 

Favorite place on the planet?

The New River Gorge, West Virginia, is my favorite place, but I’ll be more specific. There’s a route that I established here called Trebuchet that climbs up one the biggest walls in the area: the Cirque. You have to climb about 70 feet to get to this good rest before the crux which is a boulder problem out a big ceiling. The rest stance is in such a radically exposed spot it’s surreal. The steep wall drops out beneath you and you’re tucked under that big roof with views up and down the river gorge. At first, I felt anxious in that spot but over time I started to get comfortable just hanging on my arms, breathing slowly, and really taking in how awesome of a position it is. You’ve got to work hard to get there, and even harder to get past it, but getting to those spots is why we do what we do, right?

If you could leave aspiring athletes with one important piece of life advice or words of wisdom, what would it be?

“Stay hungry” has always been my personal credo, yet one that I constantly struggle to live by. For aspiring wanker sport climbers like myself, a literal translation of that is just fine, but I think it’s a good metaphor, too. Stay cold. Stay tired. Make yourself feel exhausted. The best and most memorable moments I’ve had outdoors happened when I was feeling pretty damn uncomfortable, whether that’s being soaked to the bone in the middle of Maine’s 100-mile wilderness or taking a big fall from being pumped stupid. Eating ice cream on the couch feels good, but it sure is a waste of time.

What are you looking forward to this year?

I’m really looking forward to a trip to Australia this year. For my wife and I, it’s been our dream destination and we’re finally going to pull the trigger and do it this summer. We can’t wait to climb on some of the best rock on the planet. And see kangaroos. That’s going be cool, too.

What’s your favorite piece of OR gear?

I live in OR gear and I love it. It’s hard to narrow it down to one piece because I view so many of the products as an integrated system. For climbing in the winter here, it’s perfect to have a Sequence base layer, a Radiant Hoody for warming up in, and a Transcendent Down Hoody for the belay. Oh, and of course, the ultra-light and easy-to-forget-about Helium II rain jacket, because if you’re afraid of some potential rain, you’ll never go outside in West Virginia. For comfortably chilling at my desk though, it’s hard to beat the Chalk Up cotton hoody.