Live Your Dream Grant Interview: Garrett Gibbons & Corey Day

Garrett and Corey were recipients of an AAC Live Your Dream grant this year, which led them on a trip to Vedauwoo, WY. I talked to Garrett and Corey to hear more on how their trip went and how the grant helped them develop and grow as climbers.

DL:
Hey, Garrett and Corey! Thanks for meeting up to talk about your Live Your Dream grant. It's been about three months since your trip. How does it feel now that it's over?

GG:
I feel happy, that we went out and tried really hard and now I’m psyched to get back into climbing just for fun, and going outside and doing easier routes in the Gunks. A lot.

CD:
Yeah, to add on that, it's nice to know that we went out there and tried hard and and now we can really focus on anything and not just have to climb offwidths anymore. Now we can climb offwidth if we want to.

DL:
So looking at your grant, you guys took a trip and had a specific objective. Can you tell us more about it, and where did the idea come from?

GG:
Yeah, so our Live Your Dream grant was to go to Vedauwoo to climb offwidths. Specifically, I was interested in climbing inverted offwidths, which is where you go upside down, put your feet in the crack and use hand and fist stacks to shuffle through a crack. And the genesis of the idea was that I had a previous Live Your Dream grant to learn to trad climb and I went to climb the Chief in Squamish and the route I did there called Buttface, I thought required some offwidth skills. Turns out it was a little bit more of a chimney. But that was when I started getting really into crack climbing. And I wanted to learn more about offwidth climbing. So I started doing some offwidths and found that I really like that physical uhh, grunting, demanding style of climbing. And that inspired me to want to go to the mecca for that style, which is of course Vedauwoo.

DL:
And you pitched the idea to Corey eventually, is that right?

GG:
Yeah, so my normal climbing partner hates offwidth climbing and told me I would need to find someone else to go with on this adventure. And so Corey Day and I are climbing partners occasionally. We went to Thacher, New York and actually climb this pretty wild sport route there called Black Rain Cloud. And it has... it's a cool overhanging crack. And it goes from all sizes from offwidth through hands. And he uhh, he thrashed up that thing with me, and was a great partner. And we laughed the whole time. And so that's when I was inspired to ask him to join me on this trip cause I knew he would be a great partner in this adventure.

DL:
So Corey, how did it feel when Garrett asked you on to this trip?

CD:
You know, I was, I was honored that he came to ask me to go on this sadistic adventure with him. You know, every once in a while, you get to climb something that pushes your body to the next level, mentally and physically. And I thought it was a neat idea. And I knew that I didn't really have the physicality to do it, at least at that point. But I was open to a really good, bad time and said, “What the heck, why not?”

DL:
That's awesome. So how did you guys work on putting the application and planning it together?

GG:
Uhm since I had experience from the previous Live Your Dream grant uhm, I knew that it was fairly easy to define how this uh goal would advance my climbing, because it's a technique I wasn't familiar with. So uhm, I think as Corey kind of just mentioned, I sort of showed him what my idea was, and... and asked if he had something that he was psyched on to do in Vedauwoo as well.

CD:
And so having that, I thought, hey, it would be really awesome to find something that defined offwidths in Vedauwoo, and shuffling through the Mountain Project [site] for Vedauwoo, I came across this striking picture of this beautiful line uh, in an area called the Coke Bottle uh, called Main Street. And the climb is supposed to require pretty much many different arm bars and chicken wings and be a really good introduction to offwidths all around. So I figured that would probably be a really good introduction [to] offwidths in an area that we've never been to, with techniques that we didn't have at the time. So I figured if, if I could apply and get a grant with that mindset, then it would be a worthy trip.

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DL:
Nice. And one of the things that you guys did in preparation was to have your own crack machine, before tackling climbing out there. What was the overall preparation and training like for your trip?

GG:
Yeah, so uhh I knew that we had to get: one, stronger, and two, learn the technique. So, in order to try to get stronger, we uh looked around at a lot of different training programs and sort of were convinced that strength training was a good way to go. And so we worked out a lot at Tufas Boulder Lounge, uh using the facilities there to uhm, to follow a sort of patchwork together program that we’d co-developed. It was a combination of Steve Bechtel’s Climb Strong and some of the other uh techniques from the Anderson Brothers’ Rock Prodigy program. And that kind of set the framework for the strength training regimen. And I would say that I kind of started really early, almost almost like 9 or 10 months in advance, and I burned myself out and I wasn't having fun climbing so I did take a little bit of a hiatus and rethought the strength training to incorporate more uh time on the wall climbing actually, and also more specific techniques for the offwidth climbing.

So that's when we got really inspired to build the crack machine. And so I'd seen these on Instagram and, and other kinds of social media. And uh, so I reached out to this guy in Salt Lake City, Danny Parker, who did the third ascent of the Century Crack. And he was very responsive and actually provided us with plans to build this crack climbing machine. And he also gave us advice on how big to set the crack for our specific project which we set it at like a number 5 Camalot size. Yeah, so then we started trying to use this crack machine. And at first we could, you know, the idea was we put our feet up into it, and then do basically an upside down, sit up to stuff our hands inside it and then shuffle along the crack machine to simulate the roof crack on the route Squat in Vedauwoo, which is one that I sort of settled on as the main objective for inverted offwidth climbing. And uhm, that was extremely difficult at first. The first few times I did it, it hurt my feet so bad, I couldn't even sit up into it. The next time eventually, I could sit up into it and put my hands in the crack but I couldn't move. And it took probably until my fifth or sixth time actually trying this until I could actually shuffle in the crack. And it didn't really help that it was in the, in the depths of winter as well, and it was outdoors and I had it covered with a tarp and uncover with the tarp. But I was really lucky that Corey was on board, he came over a lot and helped motivate me and we worked well together to continue uh, training together.

CD:
Yeah, it's it's funny talking about starting too early to do the strength regimen. Uh I think we started late in the summer of 2018. And I remember getting strong pretty fast, and wind up, wound up hurting myself climbing in the Gunks. And it really put uh, a damper on our, our training here back in Philadelphia. And I, it kind of forced me to take some time off to do some PT uh, for my wrist. And then we kind of had a really wet winter, throughout like the weekdays and weekends anytime we really wanted to get to the crack machine. It, because it was outdoors and because it was that time of year where it was often rainy, often really cold, it kind of took a lot of motivation to even get outside and put your feet and hands in the machine. But man, that machine... was very honest, just like rock climbing is very honest with you, you get out of it, what you put into it. This machine was even more honest. It showed you where your weaknesses were, with doing extra deep sit-ups, how much pressure you can put on your feet, how much pressure you can put in your hands and, and contort yourself to work back and forth on this machine. And sometimes it would, you would feel like you had a whole workout, just trying to move a couple inches. And like Garrett said, the first time I put my feet in the machine, my hands on the machine, I couldn't even get up. And the second time I went there, same thing, I couldn't get up, it probably took me six sessions before I can really even hang in the machine, and then eventually shuffle maybe a couple feet. I've never even shuffled the whole crack machine. But man, that crack machine was probably one of the best, most inspiring tools that I've worked out with since.

DL:
That sounds really brutal. Where's the crack machine now?

GG:
Still in, still in my backyard. And to be honest, we haven't used it since getting back from Vedauwoo. I’m hoping maybe we can adapt it to uh, make it a vertical crack. And uhm, since it is adjustable, we can put it in some different sizes and maybe use it as a teaching tool as well, uhm to try to teach crack climbing and things like that.

DL:
Like crack climbing techniques?

GG:
Yeah.

DL:
Do we know if this is the only crack machine in Philly?

GG:
As far as I know of, I haven't run into anyone else that said they have one.

DL:
That's awesome. We should make it, like the AAC PHL crack machine.

GG:
We can do that totally haha.

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DL:
So when you guys actually went on your trip, would you say that the experience was very different compared to what you thought it would be?

GG:
Uhm I think as, on the whole it was, it was a little, pretty much in alignment with what I’d expected. There were some specific things about the route that were a little different than what I’d expected. One, I would say, Vedauwoo is beautiful. It's a really amazing place. Really cool landscape. The granite is just incredible. But uhm, it's true what people say that it's sharp. So the rock was sort of what I expected. And when we started climbing, uh the actual route Squat, one thing I found was that we had looked at all these internet videos of other people climbing the route. And they all started higher up on the route, where uhm it basically made the bottom section look like no problem. It kind of skipped over all that and it was focused on the inverted climbing in the top. And when I did my first attempt from the ground up, we found that there was a lower crux, which was probably about like a 5.10 something offwidth constriction there out kind of starts as a chimney. And I thought the whole thing would be a chimney right up to the roof, which would be no problem. But it constricts in a way that you have to come out of the crack. And it puts you at this really weird angle, you have to use this really small face uh, face holds to sort of stabilize yourself as you come out of the crack and, and hang on like a really heinous arm bar. And uh, and then you have to move up and get back into the crack. And so that was that was really what surprised us.

I think the, the actual inverted offwidth climbing was uh, the crack machine trained us very well, we're able to do the upside down climbing part. And then also as expected, the uh, the actual sticking point, the crux of the route was actually to upright out of the inverted position. So at the end of the roof, you have to get yourself back, you know, heads up. And uh, although the videos, you know, showed us kind of the beta, what we expected to have to do, there was no way to really train for that aspect of the climb. And that just, you know, I thought I really didn't know, I thought maybe I could do it first try, maybe it was shut me down. And in the end, it was so hard, I never ended up getting it. So I didn't send the project. But I was really happy that I did learn a lot about going out and how hard I could try going back day after day and our bodies were really worked by the end.

CD:
Yeah I'd say uh my thoughts are kind of in line with Garrett’s with uh going out there with an open mind, not really having too much expectations cause I didn't want to get set in a certain mindset and maybe ruin it for myself or just be worrying about things that didn't even exist. Uh but I will say one, the rock is very sharp. But, that very sharp rock also lends itself to being very grippy, which is a nice feature. And on a lot of the climbs, a lot of those crystals that are sticking out, you can use those tiny little holds as well. So there is some benefit to them. Uh at one point, the jaggedness of the rocks was getting to me and I, I may or may not have sworn I was going to sell all my climbing gear when I got home. Obviously, that didn't happen. Uh but I mean, it's funny our expectations when you're looking at climbs on Mountain Project, and you're reading beta about them, watching videos about them, when we got to Squat, it's not a big problem. Online, there's a number it says how tall it is, it probably says it's about 35-40 feet. But when you're standing under it, it is not a big problem. But the four or five days that we spent hours working on the climb, you would think it was 1000 foot climb. And so the expectations of, of being able to one, we thought we're going to blow through the bottom, we didn't even think about the bottom crux of the climb, being thinking we're going to blow through that to just get to the inverted offwidth, and then getting, eventually getting into the inverted offwidth and climbing through that, that might have even been the easier part of the climb. And, and finally getting almost to the end and, and try, getting stuck at a final crux. Uh, the expectation was there that I didn't know if it was possible to do.

Garrett got me really fired up and inspired thinking he was about to get it. And he got super close. But I know if he was to go out there again, he definitely would get it. And then I guess finally the last expectation is, I wasn't, I didn't really... The one expectation I had was, camping on the East Coast and the Gunks, I'm so used to camping in areas where you have to pay for things. And it's like a very defined regimented campsite. When we were out there, we stayed out there for five days in open free campsites. They were somewhat defined with where the campsite locations were, but it was just open and free campsites, and staying that long in an area and not paying for it was one thing that really surprised me and blew my mind. So maybe that's something to do with the East Coast mentality. But that was a nice surprise.

DL:
Would you guys do it again? Ever?

GG:
Oh, yeah, definitely. I, I really hope to get back to Vedauwoo. Uhm you know, there's so many amazing places I want to climb. In the meantime, as well, I, having this crack climbing obsession I haven't been to Indian Creek, I'm going to try to do that in the spring. And, you know, maybe even take a clinic with some of my heroes that inspired this trip. Uh that's what I'm looking forward to in the spring. But yeah, I definitely want to continue to develop my skill set and definitely go back to Vedauwoo at some point.

CD:
Yeah I’d absolutely go back to Vedauwoo again. And the surrounding areas. I mean, there's so many areas to climb just around there, between the Rocky or between the Front Range, the Rocky Mountains, Vedauwoo, uh up into Wyoming into like the, the Wind Rivers and all that. There's so much climbing around that I would love to go back to Vedauwoo. But I know that I would love to see so many other places as well that have similar and interesting rock as well.

DL:
Yeah, there's just so many climbing places that you can always go to. And now looking back at your trip, what would you say were the key takeaways or learning points that you guys came across?

GG:
That's a great question. So I was just thinking about what because even though I didn't send the route, like I think it was a success in the sense that the goal of the Live Your Dream grant is to develop the skill or to advance your climbing in a certain way. And what it really pushed us to do, and push me to do, was to hone in on a type of a style of climbing that a lot of people hate, I do enjoy, but I wasn't that good at it. And it forced me to think about the technique a lot. And so, through this experience, I've uhm, put a concerted effort towards learning crack climbing techniques, particularly offwidth. And now, I feel like that's uh, a tool that I have in my tool kit. And when I'm climbing and on the East Coast, we don't hit a lot of cracks. But when I get to a solid hand jam, and you shove your hand in there, and it's as bomber as a jug, like that's one of the best feelings in climbing and just, so now having this additional skill set of crack climbing is a huge takeaway, and I’m very grateful for the support of the American Alpine Club, and the Live Your Dream grant to be able to pursue that.

CD:
Uh I think some of the major takeaways are: one, I learned a lot about goal setting. Uh, Garrett had the foresight and like the lofty vision and just pick out a technique or, or skill that he had no idea how to do and just say “I'm going to do that. I'm going to do that a year from now. I'm going to train for it. I don't know what to train for, how to train for, but I'm going to figure out and achieve that in a year”. And when I first signed on, I didn't know if I really believe that it was possible. But then having gone through the year’s process of setting a major goal and then picking apart chips of it or chipping away at the goal, and just eventually getting very close to achieving the actual goal is something I didn't think was possible, actually getting very close to achieving it was one of the major takeaways I have. And then as well as, I mean, as focused, as laser focused as we were at, on this trip is trying to do a certain climb and learn certain techniques, just being able to be afforded the opportunity to climb in such a beautiful area. I mean, one of the main reasons I love climbing is because you get to go to these beautiful areas that you wouldn't normally think of going to. And so, we were taken into an area of the country that I don't think I ever would have thought to go to. And even having been a climber and not really knowing much about offwidths, I still may have never gotten there before if it hadn't been for Garrett saying, “Hey, let's do this really difficult style of climbing that's like, the only or the area that's known for that style of climbing is there. So, I think the major takeaways are, are setting goals, trying to achieve them, climbing cool places, and just pick a lofty goal and go for it.

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DL:
Yeah, sounds like the Live Your Dream grant really gave you guys an opportunity to try something new, but also develop more as climbers. Any last words you guys want to share to all the other Philly area climbers?

GG:
I would say in terms of the Live Your Dream grant, just try. Just apply. Do it. Find something you're psyched on. You know, like Corey said, even if it's something you think is impossible, uh, or you know, anything, something you don't have any experience in? That's better. That's, that's what you should use to apply for these grants, because the goal is to advance your climbing. So I would say you know, you're never going to get it unless you try. So just go for it.

CD:
Yeah, I agree. I mean, the worst, after, the application process is not difficult. I mean, the, there's two essay portions. One was, I think, 500 words, and the other was around the same or slightly less. And the worst that they could say is no, and you just reapply the next year. And you just keep applying ‘til you get it.

DL:
Just gotta keep trying, right?

CD:
Yeah, you just gotta prove that whatever you're trying to do progresses your climbing. And I've seen grants as simple as somebody wanted money for a gym membership to train for a climbing competition. And ones as complicated as doing a multinational trip trying to summit major 8000 meter peaks. So I mean, just pick something that gets you fired up and go for it.

DL:
Alright, thanks for sharing your story, guys!

GG & CD:
Cool. Thank you.

Corey will be sharing more on their trip to Vedauwoo at our Story Swap at Azavea on Sept 25th! Get your tickets with the link below to hear more!

The AAC Live Your Dream grant, powered by The North Face, is designed to help every-day adventurers take their abilities to the next level. It is about personal progression. It is about supporting each other; getting out there to push our individual limits; taking our skills to the next proving grounds, wherever that may be. The purpose of this grant is to support and promote unforgettable experiences for climbers—to dream big, to grow, and to inspire others. Applications are accepted February 1st through March 31st every year.