Five Questions With Climber Sam Lightner

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 climbing?

My best friend from elementary through high school was Mark Newcomb, the son of Rod Newcomb, who is an Exum Guide. Being near the Exum guides, we were exposed to climbing at an early age. We used to goof around on the cliffs in the Jackson Hole Ski Area in the summer. When we could drive, we started climbing. It’s hard to pin an exact date, but I know Mark and I climbed a 5.7 in Laramie Bowl when we were in the 8th grade.

What keeps you climbing? 

I feel happiest when I climb. It’s that simple. Why it makes me happy, I don’t know. I’m finishing a book on climbing right now, and in 100,000 words, I cannot come up with an answer as to why we climb. It’s dangerous, it’s difficult, it’s time consuming ... those sound like reasons not to climb, but they’re probably the reasons for climbing as well.

What is your typical day/week schedule? 

My days are broken into climbing and writing. On a writing day, I wake about 7:45 a.m., make coffee, go to my desk and ponder various bits of the internet and answer emails from friends that rolled in through the night. After about an hour I start writing. I stop when my brain blows up, which is usually around 2:30 p.m..

Climbing days are dictated by the particular climbing. A sport climbing day usually doesn’t begin before 8. An alpine day might have started the night before.

Finish this sentence: In high school, I was … an underachiever. 

Any advice to young people getting started in your sport? 

Work your weakness. You may love sport climbing because you are good at it, but someday you are going to want to try out other aspects of the sport. You won’t want to just clip bolts for 70 years. If you prefer traditionally protected climbing, go sport climbing regularly. You will find you can climb trad better with the strength you gain from sport. In short, when you are young, try and get a solid base in all disciplines. 

Favorite place on the planet? 

The knee-bar rest at the lip of the bulge on the third pitch of Lord of the Thai’s, about 500 feet above Railay Bay, Thailand. 

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

Listen to older trainers. You think, as I did and as all young athletes do, that this pain-free life will last forever. It won’t. You will get injuries and they will nag at you. The best way to avoid them is to train with some wisdom, but the only way to gain that wisdom is to have made the mistakes. So listen to the old farts who made the mistakes. Don’t throw yourself at things through all of the pain. Learn to work with people who know how to train without getting hurt, or how to train while hurt. 

What are you looking forward to this year?

My wife Liz and I are moving back to Wyoming from Moab. I lived there part time in the early 90s, when the climbing scene was just starting up. It’s now a really great community. There are lots of climbers, and they’re supportive of each other. 

What’s your favorite piece of OR gear?

I can’t do that ... I can’t name one because I have three. The first is the Transcendent Hoody [LINK]. When you’re between pitches but you are exercising, this jacket is more than enough to keep you warm, but it’s so small and light you can climb with it balled up in a tiny pack. Next would be the Ferrosi Hoody [LINK]. It’s a wind shell, it stretches, it’s light, and it even deflects a lot of moisture. When a sudden burst of bad weather comes through, it can save you. I don’t go anywhere without it in my pack. Last would be the Echo Tee [LINK]. For really warm climates, I have never had a more comfortable shirt. It wicks moisture, allows a breeze to blow through, and blocks the sun. It’s all the best aspects of  cotton and synthetic in one shirt. 

Where do you live now and why?

My whole life is built around climbing, and where I live is based on what I want to accomplish in the sport. I have lived in Moab for the last seven years, having moved here because I wanted to tick towers and improve my crack climbing skills. Prior to that I was in Banff, focused on ice and alpine, and for much of the last 24 years I’ve been in Thailand, focusing on sport climbing. Living in Moab improves your crack climbing skills, but you tend to fall off in general climbing strength. So we’re headed back to the Bighorn Dolomite of the east side of the Wind River Range.

Where do you see yourself going in the outdoor industry and your sport?

As you get older, your will to be a climber may not change, but your body does. You have to spend less time at it, but you still want to be connected to the sport. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself spending more time working for climbers, with the Access Fund and various re-bolting efforts like the Thaitanium Project. I still have a few big peaks that I want to tick… there is always one more thing and always that next adventure, but I plan to spend more time working for our sport in the future.