Get to know Stephen Meinhold, new head route setter at Inner Peaks. Here is an interview from last year that talks about his climbing experience and philosophy as well as a few personal details. After you read this, stop by the gym to try a few of his routes and maybe say hey in person!
Sponsors: Five Ten, Mountain Hardwear, Petzl, Sterling Rope
Favorite Music: underground apocalyptic hip-hop (Aesop Rock, Deltron 3030)
Favorite Food: Meat, greens, potatoes, and cookies
Favorite Friday Night Activity: Stay in and watch a movie or drive to climb
1. Tell us a little about yourself? How long have you been climbing and what and/or who got you started?
Born and raised in Charlotte, NC, I’m a southern boy at heart with a taste for champagne on a beer budget. I started climbing when my dad took me to the local gym one day, and I was instantly hooked – that was about 16 years ago. It’s funny to say, but it was different then. I was one of only a few kids who consistently climbed and was the youngest at that. The gym had a top rope room with maybe 7-9 ropes (no leading), and the bouldering area had 4 walls and a small stair step cave. Over the summer I would climb 4-6 days a week; I just couldn’t get enough of it. Matt Stark, who started Dead Point Magazine, was a young employee at the gym at the time, and he was the first person who told me that I would be a strong climber one day. He made me realize that hard work and time in the gym would pay off, and over time it did. Within a couple years a bigger state of the art gym opened up, and now Inner Peaks was my new home away from home. I now had a whole new world to play in, with an inspiring lead cave, AND they had top out boulders – big deal. From here on I was the young punk kid in the gym asking anyone to take me outside to climb. I would mostly get out with guys 15-40 years older than me, so it was a chance to learn a lot. Generally ethics in NC are some of the purest in the country – ground up (bolting, FA’s, and sends) is the only way. So needless to say I was kept in line and sandbagged from my first time out.
2. You’ve climbed all over the U.S. and even in Spain, do you have a(any) favorite climbing destination(s)?
One of the first areas I climbed at was the New River Gorge, and to this day I haven’t been able to find a better crag around. Cool town, beautiful woods and river, quiet and unsettled, and all in West by God Virginia. This place is amazing, and there is no rock more solid or better made for climbing than the nutall sandstone at the New. There is a rich history dating back to the 70’s, and climbers like Lynn Hill and Scott Franklin have left their sandbagged mark on the rock at the New. (Both of their FA’s have since been upgraded by at least one letter grade, and both lines have fewer than 10 ascents in almost 25 years).The grades are solid and the routes test every style of climbing, especially locking off and standing on your feet. Check your ego at the door though, the weather is hardly reliable and sends are never gimmies. Get your try hard on – I love it.
3. You’ve been climbing for so long and part of that for you has been competing. What motivates you to compete and do you have any favorite and/or notable competitions you’ve done?
I started competing in junior comps in the JCCA (which is now the USAC) in 1998. I won regionals in 98, 99, 00 and went to junior nationals in 1999 and 2000, one which was at Clubsport in PDX. Unsatisfied with ribbons, I jumped into adult comps with hopes of winning sweet gear, and proving I could hang with adults. My first few comps I fell in the middle of the pack, but before too long I was consistently competing for the podium. I won $1k getting first at an annual big comp in Atlanta back in 2005, which was probably my biggest win. I tied Dave Graham once in a bouldering comp, got 4th overall in the Triple Crown series one year, made top 10 at Mammut Bouldering Championships a few times, and got 2nd at 24HHH the past two years. Compete enough and you eventually get lucky.
I like competitions for a source of motivation and a personal challenge. Competing gives me a goal to train for and a reason to try hard other than just hard red-points outside. Once you travel to comps on the national level you start to run into the same people over and over. Every comp starts to become a sort of family reunion; you really develop a bond with the other competitors. I still run into some of the kids I competed with in my junior days from time to time, so even a comp loss gives me the chance to cheer my best friends to victory. It’s a win-win.
4. Competition climbing is definitely tough stuff. It is obvious climbers need to train hard and put in a lot of effort in order to compete. What are some of your thoughts on training for climbing and/or training for competing?
Like anything it mainly takes dedication and the true desire to want to get better. Training is work. It’s not fun and it’s not supposed to be. You clock in and complete a workout and never give up early. You welcome failure and wear soreness as a badge of honor. The best climbers rarely make excuses or give up. They always have one more try in them.
To keep motivation up through rounds of failure I’ve found some ground rules to follow. First, you set a goal to train for. It can be a comp, a route to redpoint, or even just a grade to overcome a plateau. Next, you need to formulate a strict training schedule that you can and will follow. Start smaller and add to the workload as you see gains. You can research training methods on blogs of pro climbers, magazines, or even take clinics on training with me here at Inner Peaks. Finally, you need to stick to your schedule and write it all down. By recording everything you will be able to keep yourself from cheating reps, and you can track what it working.
5. Do you have any recommendations for climbers looking to start training or put in the extra effort to get over a plateau? Any good resources you may have used just starting out?
A good start is consistency. Get into a regular schedule of climbing or climbing and training, and it will improve your fitness and strength. Just get used to pushing yourself first, and then analyze your climbing. Find your weaknesses and strengths, and address them both through training. As you plateau, watch others climb what you cannot and see what they are doing differently. Sometimes it’s the movement that is hard to figure out and a lot of times it can be a lack of strength or endurance. You now have areas you need to train. Address them, come back, and send. Also getting on routes way above your ability allows you to see what you need to climb at that level. Pretty much just get used to falling and figuring out why, then fixing that “why” so that you don’t fall there again. You can speed up the process by working with a nationally certified personal trainer or working with people experienced with climbing training in the gym. Eric Horst has many helpful books pertaining to training for climbing. Also many professional climbers have training sections on their blogs.
6. You’ve been setting for quite some time now correct? How long have you been setting routes in gyms? How do you keep coming up with fresh ideas?
I’ve been setting for about 13 years now on and off. I’ve set in many gyms all over the country and climbed in most of the larger gyms in big cities. Through competitions I have climbed on routes set by all of the top national U.S. setters, and I have set for many comps including a few regionals.
I generally just set with the flow of the feature that I am working on. I may first find some holds that inspire me, but I just try to force an inviting sequence that makes sense and is relatively equal in grade for all. I like to try and make people commit to moves that they don’t want to do. Whether it’s a small foot or just a desperate move, I like to make people get out of their comfort zone. I want my routes to prepare people for what they might run into outside. In theory, if you can climb one of my routes in the gym, you should be able to go outside and feel comfortable on the same grade. I want everyone to experience what they like to climb and what they don’t like to climb, because that’s what you will run into outside, and that’s what will make you better all around.
7. Other than climbing what else do you like to do?
I help support my girlfriend Mackenzie in her pursuit of law school and am also currently finishing up my undergrad in Mathematics with a minor in Physics. Once we graduate, we will head back east where I want to teach at a high school within a weekend trip of the New or the Red. Once I get done with school and work, I have just enough time to train and get outside a handful of times a year. I love climbing and traveling with my girlfriend and our pup Everett. So if I’m not doing that, I’m doing something that will lead to that. I can be pretty one dimensional at times, but I guess I know what I want out of life right now and am just going for that.
8. Any last words to leave us with?
Don’t make excuses, just try harder.
Don’t save your send for tomorrow – it’s probably gonna rain.