SEALgrinderPT Interviews climbing legend Randy Leavitt
SGPT: When and how did you start climbing?
RL: I started in approximately 1975, at 14/15 years old.
(Randy on the overhanging hand crack, River of Life)
SGPT: Who were your early mentors?
RL: I climbed with the Stonemasters. My heros included Joe Tasker and Pete Boardman.
SGPT: Can you tell us about some of your early big wall adventures?
RL: My first big wall was an attempt on the West Face of the Leaning Tower (Yosemite) in 1975. I was with Tony Yaniro and Mike Waugh. We failed, but learned a lot about how to retreat off of a very steep aid climb. That was cool. We were about 15 years old. I went back with Paul Neal the following year (1976) and did it. In 1977 I climbed an early ascent Tis-sa-ack on Half Dome with Max Jones and Augie Klein. Max was a very impressive all around climber. The next season (1978) when I was 17/18, I climbed The Zodiac (El Cap with Yaniro), repeated Tangerine Trip (El Cap with Dan Hershman), then soloed Electric Ladyland (Washington Column), and finally Pacific Ocean Wall (El Cap, 4th ascent) with Dale Bard. Dale was a machine. In subsequent years, I did some first ascents and first solo ascents on El Cap.
SGPT: How did you make the transition from big wall to sport climbing?
RL: I felt like a natural big wall climber. After success an a big wall almost seemed like a guaranteed venture, I wanted something that would challenge me more. Tony Yaniro was an impressive free climber, so I tried his training regime and tried to keep up with him. I never considered myself a good, natural free climber. It was more or less something I trained myself to be decent at. My natural ability was with big wall climbing, which is more of a combination of risk management, long term physical strain, tenacity and systems engineering.
SGPT: Tell us about your garage climbing wall/cave and how it came to be? Can you tell us about some of the custom holds and pockets you have made?
RL: In 1989 my wife and I bought a 3 bedroom house in San Diego, which had a 1,000 square foot garage (4 car size). I eventually turned this into a great climbing cave (5,000 holds) with long routes set to simulate hard sport climbing (50 to 100 move climbs, with some climbs up to 170 moves). I developed pretty good endurance there. More importantly, it was fun. I even replicated the crux sections of some hard climbs, like Planet Earth, Closing Down, and Scarface. Using dental impression material, I was able to replicate existing holds and pockets – an interesting process. It was like my adult playground/laboratory.
SGPT: You have been involved in the development of many high end sport routes and areas. Can you tell us more about that effort?
RL: Big wall climbing (a combination of risk management, long term physical strain, tenacity and systems engineering) was very natural for me, but I wanted something that would challenge me more. Tony Yaniro was an impressive free climber, so I tried his training regime and attempted to keep up with him. I never considered myself a really good, natural free climber. It was more or less something I trained myself to be decent at.
I was involved in a lot of first ascents (of trad climbs) on granite, but limestone became my favorite rock. The two main high-end limestone sport areas that I was involved in were Virgin River Gorge (VRG) and Clark Mountain. It was always more inspiring and motivational for me to bolt and attempt new climbs. At the time, my goal was 5.14, but more importantly I wanted to find routes that would become hard classics. Generally, the harder limestone sport climbing gets, the more interesting the movement and position of the climb.
SGPT: What was it like to develop and work with Chris Sharma on the ascent of your route(s) at Mt Evans?
RL: I think you are referring to Jumbo Love (5.15b) at Clark Mountain. I bolted that line in 1994, which was the first line bolted on the impressive third tier of Clark Mountain. It was clear to me that every section would go free, but it was a level of climbing harder than existed at the time (like the middle 150 foot section of continuous V6 to V10 moves with no real rests). I spent a little time failing on the first half, which was 5.14c to some chains I installed at a hand jam rest. Eventually, my friend Jorge and I convinced Sharma to try the route. It was satisfying for me to see him finally redpoint the climb. Our generation was never even close to what he can do.
SGPT: Do you prepare your mind (meditation, relaxation, sleep, etc.) to get ready for a hard or scary route?
RL: I try to break the climb down into parts and not worry about the whole thing. For example, if there is a kneebar rest somewhere, I might just think about making it to the rest. After I chill there for awhile and slow down my breathing, I will then think about the next section. If I fail, I like to go down swinging. This willingness to try, even though failure seems likely, has resulted in surprising good results. However, I usually climb pretty controlled.
SGPT: It looks like your having fun with surfing – can you tell us about that effort?
RL: The best day surfing is better than the best day climbing. There is just nothing like getting barreled or dropping into a huge wave. Except kitesurfing, which is what I prefer these days. With kitesurfing, you have all the speed and power you need to do what you want with the wave.
SGPT: Thanks for the interview Randy.
RL: You are welcome Brad. Thanks for your service with Seal Team 4.
SEALgrinderPT is donor to the Access Fund
Article posted December, 2011 and updated May, 2018.
Interview with climber John Gill