Interview: Cedar Wright

American climber Cedar Wright will be coming to Oz in just under a month’s time for the Australian Climbing Festival. We spoke to Cedar ahead of his trip Downunder to find out more about the man himself, his filmmaking philosophy and Alex Honnold’s big cow eyes

Cedar Wright. Image Cedar Wright collection

Cedar Wright. Image Cedar Wright collection

We are psyched that you are coming to speak at the Australian Climbing Festival in October, have you been to Australia previously?
I believe I have been to Austria once before, for Octoberfest and to see the kangaroos?! I might be confusing trips though.

We are quite isolated down here at the Arse End of the Universe so for anyone who doesn’t know you well, what is the Cedar Wright elevator pitch?
I would say something to the effect of… Cedar Wright is many things to many men. Yes, he is a Bon Vivant, Raconteur, and Poetic Genius, but he is also so much more! Some know him as a scrappy dirtbag climber with an unusual penchant for suffering, loose rock and even looser women. But the truth is that Cedar is a man that defies simple definition. He is a man that refuses to be put in a box, so that he can think outside the box. A filmmaker, a musician, a professional climber, a man of the people.

Who is Cedar Wright?

Cedar’s early years were spent in drug induced haze, lost and aimless in this world, but on a fateful day at the age of 21 he discovered climbing while working his way towards a degree in English in Northern California. Cedar’s life was forever transformed, and it wasn’t long before he moved into his truck and moved his truck to Yosemite. Cedar worked on the Search and Rescue team for five years, while getting the shit kicked out of him by the endless granite cracks. Eventually Cedar got reasonably good and employing a scrappy, risk friendly style of climbing, managed break some speed records and put up some first ascents. What Cedar always lacked in real talent, he often made up for with a religious like fervor for climbing.

Cedar has free climbed El Cap in a day, established adventurous first ascents around the world, and often returns with highly embellished, and outlandishly tall tales of his exploits.

Recently Cedar Wright and Alex Honnold enchained all of the California’s 14,000 foot peaks using only bikes for transport, which when converted to metres sounds really pointless. This was the worst trip of their lives… so they did it again less than a year later, enchaining 45 desert towers via their most difficult routes all by bike, reaffirming that hundreds of miles of biking combined with climbing is a terrible idea.

Sufferfest 2-25

Alex Honnold climbing during his and Cedar’s enchainment of desert towers in Utah. Image by Cedar Wright

Without giving too much away, can you give the VL Massive a bit of an idea of what they can expect from your show at the Festival?
Well, I would say that you are going to get to see some original never before seen material that has never been wanted to be seen. You may get a sneak peak of Sufferfest 2.

Do you have any idiosyncratic tricks for remaining calm under the terrifying gaze of enormous and expectant audiences and do they translate to calming you on the rocks?
I use a similar approach for both daunting undertakings. I convince myself that it will not be a big deal and then everything turns into a junkshow catastrophe that I barely survive.

What’s hot Stateside at the minute (i.e. what will be hot here in six to 11 months)?
I’m given you guys the jump on this one so that you can stay ahead on current fashions. We are bringing back the fannypack and clothe diapers for adults…. or was that a dream?

Sufferfest 2-16

Pedal power between desert towers in Utah. Image by Cedar Wright

Suffering seems to be your personal motto-of-the-moment, what’s the attraction?
Actually to be fair this is elective suffering, which is a side effect of the complete domestication of the human species. We are so safe and comfortable in our homes that in order to reap the rewards of feeling human we have to come up with preposterous tests of our endurance. It’s important to note that this kind of suffering is a luxury, and there are lots of people around the world with real problems like poverty, clean water, etc, that I really have a lot of empathy for. So just to be clear that we know nothing about REAL suffering.

Whilst we acknowledge that nostalgia is the preserve of fools, conservative politicians and charlatans*, do you think that, at least in the West, we are becoming disconnected from hardship and suffering and what does that mean for Society?
I do truly believe that our happiness is in some ways relative to our hardship, and I think that we should all strive to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations from time to time, so that we can appreciate the comfort and conveniences of modern society.

What is the relationship between climbing and exploration and is this something that has changed over time?
Well, I think that there are still those ‘original gangster’ spirits out there, who are about squeezing adventure from the unknown, but certainly climbing has grown and changed a lot over the last 50 years. Climbing gyms, bouldering and sport climbing are more about gymnastic athleticism rather than the adventure and exploration that initially attracted me to climbing, but I respect and love all forms of climbing.

Alex Honnold soloing during the Sierras enchainment. Image by Cedar Wright

Alex Honnold soloing during the enchainment of all California’s 14,000 foot peaks. Image by Cedar Wright

The lot of the professional athlete is to garner attention for sponsors, what effect to think this has on the state of climbing and do you think this compromises athletes?
Well, I think it really depends on the climber’s relationship with themselves and their personality. For me, I genuinely love sharing my adventures and it gets me stoked when someone tells me that, for instance, they were inspired to do their own bike tour after watching Sufferfest. I’m lucky to have good personal relationships with the people that sponsor my misadventures, and I consider myself quite lucky to be keeping it authentic to my personal vision of life. I think that personal verses external motivations are something that becomes more tricky for professional climbers, but it is really something that all people must struggle with. I will say that being a professional climber is a job, and comes with its compromises, like any job, but I would say that I am very happy with my lot in life.

Apart from the emotion and anguish of capturing some poor oaf shitting their dacks, what makes a good climbing flick?
Honestly there is nothing better than a climber shitting themselves. This is something that I have struggled with accepting ever since Boogie til You Poop, but seriously… I think good climbing films have these four components: 1. Character: this is the most important, thing for me personally. Nothing is better than a compelling and unique personality; 2. Plot. There has to be a clear sense of objective, conflict or climax, and resolution for your character; 3. Setting: This is usually easy for climbing films, because we are blessed with beautiful natural setting, but it is great to actually get to know the place where the adventure is set; 4: Theme: This is often overlooked and really important. What is the overlying lesson, philosophy or tone that you are trying to convey with your movie?

What do you think of current climbing filmmaking and who is doing good stuff?
I think it’s a really unique space, because it lacks the big budgets and wow factor of say a skiing movie. I think people are forced to focus on the fundamentals, and I think that really paid off for the guys at Sender Films, Duct Tape then Beer and Camp Four Collective, who all make movies almost as good as mine. They are also, all almost as humble as me.

No one loves Renan Ozturk more than we do, do you have any tips on how we can become him?
Becoming Renan Ozturk is tricky. I will say that he is notorious for destroying his camera equipment, so perhaps try buying an expensive camera and then throwing it in the ocean or off a cliff as a tribute and sacrifice to the professional filmmaker/climbing gods could work.

All the colours of the rainbow; cyclist's/climber's legs. Image by Cedar Wright

All the colours of the rainbow; cyclist’s/climber’s legs. Image by Cedar Wright

You’ve done a lot of speed climbing in the past, when did stop and start real climbing?
Ha… good question! I actually still enjoy speed climbing, but I definitely have gotten way more psyched on trying to free big walls these days. It’s just a lot more rewarding.

Do you ever worry you may get inexorably lost gazing deep into Alex Honnold’s massive brown eyes? How do you avoid his Medusa-like power?
Right!! He has the most hypnotic dilated cow eyes I’ve ever seen. Next thing I know I’m in the desert covered in red dirt, hundreds of feet off the ground with no protection with Alex yelling at me to ‘CLIMB FASTER.’ It’s an ongoing problem.

Last time you were down here you had a martial arts bout with Singer Smith. Do you guys have a return bout planned?
I actually haven’t told Singer I’m coming back because I fear I will be met with a life-sucking choke-hold the minute I walk off the plane.

Finally; Ernest Shackleton’s perseverance, Peter Croft’s composure, or Tobin Sorenson’s madness.
I’m going to go with D. Warren Harding’s hair…. or perhaps Royal Robbins’ glasses.

* forgive the clear tautology

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