Pete Takeda: I’m in my mid-40’s and started climbing in 1980. Over that time I started as a boulderer, progressed through free climbing, big-wall climbing, sport, ice, mixed, and now big mountain climbing. My sponsors are Marmot, Native Eyewear, and Nutriex. I’ve written a couple books and been published in Men’s Journal, Outside, Rock and Ice, Alpinist, Elevation Outdoors and Climbing.
SGPT: How did you start climbing?
PT: I started as a boulderer in a quarry in Idaho. I was a bit of a delinquent kid. We found climbing as a way to vent our energy. I’m proud to say I was a true boulderer before it became “cool”. During high school one year we bouldered almost every day. Back then, we didn’t know what a rest day was. You can see how I still love bouldering at:
SGPT: Who were your early mentors in climbing?
PT: We didn’t have a lot of informed resources. We read books and milked whatever we could from magazines. My buddy Cade Lloyd and I were basically self-taught – we made our own gear and so on. I remember earning the nickname “Running Belay” after dropping someone to the ground after one of my first difficult leads.
SGPT: Can you tell us about some of your early ascents?
PT: I remember wanting to lead a 5.9, then a 5.10, then a 5.11 and so on. I did a first ascent that came out to be 5.13b in Yosemite in the late 1980’s.
SGPT: You have been working on a book – can you tell us more about that?
PT: If I told you, I’d have to kill ya…. Ha ha! I have a collection of stories I’m working on, but right now my major focus is Hollywood film. My book, “An Eye At The Top Of The World” has been optioned and the second script draft is coming in soon. I wrote a story based on an idea by my producer, called “Hidden Mountain”. That should begin principal photography in 2012.
I am also nearly done with a script that takes place on the AfPak border. It’s about an unruly youth who commits an infraction as a youngster and ends up in the Special Forces. Then 9/11 rolls along and… You might be able to help me out with some info! I’d welcome the chance to get over there and be embedded. Any help is welcome!
SGPT: Can you tell us about your days back in Yosemite and how you got your name “Big Wall Pete”?
PT: When I first got to the Valley in the late 1980’s, I was a reasonably good free climber (this was before sport climbing and the term “Trad climbing” didn’t exist). I was however a bit overawed by the big walls. I got the name after retreating so many times. We’d make up all sorts of ridiculous excuses to bail. Finally got so sick of failing I made it up El Cap. Since then I’ve done quite a bit of hard aid (one route we climbed was so loose and dangerous that the two crux pitches spontaneously fell off the wall. I guess that’s A5 – maybe A6 if any bystanders on the Valley floor were to have been killed.)
SGPT: Do you do any physical training (trail running, weights, bodyweight workouts) other than climbing?
PT: When I’m writing hard, I do virtually no exercise. I’ve been known to train hard back in the 1990’s. One day I did 1000 chin-ups and lat pulls – which doesn’t really help your climbing much. I also used to train my fingers hard – which I no longer emphasize because I’m more excited about climbing alpine routes.
In the past few years I’ve done some biking, running, and anaerobic threshold training. I like putting in long days in the mountains when time allows as you combine fatigue with life-critical technical tasks. I need to do more training though. I find that yoga is great if you can stay on track with it.
SGPT: Do you ever meditate or just chill out before a big scary climb? What is your method for dealing with fear and the unknown?
PT: I was just in Peru and my friend Mick was videotaping me right before a big climb. I said, “Every time I go up on these things I think about what it’s like to die.” That’s a true statement in that alpine climbing in big mountains is a high stakes game. Some people think I’m being cynical, but if one doesn’t ponder and accept the mortal risk, they are not dealing with reality. When I get tired and scared climbing I say to myself, “This is what you do. You choose to do this.”
SGPT: I was mesmerized by the article you wrote on desert mud tower climbing. Can you tell our readers a little more about that?
PT: Myself and a couple partners found some big mud towers by I-70 near Grand Junction. We climbed them because they looked cool. The climbing was on compressed mud. We used oversized pitons, Ice tools, and 12-inch bolts to climb them.
SGPT: Can you tell us about competing in the Winter X-games?
PT: The year prior to competing in the X-Games, I’d won the mixed climbing competition at the Ouray Ice Festival. The X-Games were interesting, but I don’t think I had the right mindset and strategy to do what was not the most realistic competition. After that year, I focused on getting into the big mountains – Himalayas, Karakoram, Alaska Range, etc.
SGPT: You have traveled extensively around the world along with Pakistan, Alaska and Iceland. What sticks out as the most memorable of your climbing trips?
PT: My most memorable trip is the last one I’ve been on…. Hahaha! One trip – as described in my book, four of us took shelter in a crevasse and were buried for four days. I had to tunnel out through 25 feet of avalanche debris after a series of three avalanches sealed us into a subterranean vault of ice. We escaped when the storm abated. An adjacent team of Italians were evacuated by helicopter. Three days later my now deceased friend Jonny Copp spent five days climbing to 7400 meters on a 7,434 meter peak. We retreated in a brief storm. That was a helluva trip…
SGPT: Thanks for the interview, Pete.
PT: My pleasure. You guys make me feel like a slacker with all your skills and fitness. I’m open to pointers!