Master Rock Climber George Hurley

While doing research for my 50 Athletes Over 50 book, I interviewed George Hurley, a Master Rock Climber from New Hampshire, and I thought I’d share the full interview in my blog.

The following is a summary of the interview I had with George in July 2009. George shared with me how he got started climbing and how he has managed to stay at it for over 50 years!

George Hurley is a 74 year old rock climber and ice climber who lives in Wonalancet, New Hampshire, and who has established hundreds of new rock and ice climbing routes across the country since the 1960’s. In high school, George ran track and played football, and began climbing when a graduate school classmate took him climbing up Cussin’ Crack inBoulder Canyon,Colorado. He liked it so much, that he became a climber that day. George went on to teach English at the high school and college levels, and in 1974 changed from teaching English to teaching rock and ice climbing as a guide. George was a guide in Colorado for several years before moving toNew Hampshire, where he has been guiding for various organizations ever since.

George still guides rock and ice climbs, and establishes new climbing routes inNew England. He loves the adventure of seeing a new line and finding out whether he can climb it or not. George invited me to climb with him the next time I am inNew England, and I plan on taking him up on that offer. Being a climber myself, I thank George and others like him who spend countless hours finding, cleaning, and making available new climbs for other climbers to enjoy. Thanks George!

Q:     What is your biggest accomplishment in your sports?

A:      My biggest accomplishment is the many new routes that I have established. I’ve been regularly putting up new lines since the 1960’s. I haven’t kept count, but they number in the hundreds. In the old days when I was establishing routes in Coloradoand Utahit wasn’t as difficult as it is today to do a first ascent. You could walk along a cliff like Lumpy Ridge, and do things like George’s Tree from the ground up. You’d just start at the ground, go to the top, and you’d have done a first ascent. Today, especially here inNew England, it’s a lot of work. I’m working on a new route right now; and it’s covered in lichen and mud. I’ve had to rappel with a wire brush and clean it.

Q:     What one or two things do you currently do in your training that are keys to your success?

A:       I don’t really do much training. I’ve been doing yoga for more than 25 years, and my wife and I practice at home twice a week. We also like ballroom dancing. If there’s no dancing to be done out and about, we dance in the kitchen. I was at an American Alpine Club party last Saturday night, and there was lots of dancing. It turns out that there are not many men who like to dance, so I get lots of exercise! I’d been climbing all day, and then I danced until late in the evening. I think it’s really good fun, and good training.

Q:     What would be your ultimate achievement?

A:      To continue to have fun and find new lines for a few more years. I’m 74 now, so if I can keep doing this another few years, I’ll be satisfied.

Q:     How do you set your goals?

A:      My goal is to do first ascents. What I do is see a possible line, and then enjoy the excitement of finding out if it’s really doable. So, for me, setting goals is often just a matter of looking around. If you’re ever inNew Hampshire, I’m still able to find new lines, so come on out!

Q:     What is your biggest challenge, and what do you do to manage this challenge?

A:      It’s arthritis in my knees. I use trekking poles to help me during the walk into a climbing area. I guess most people my age have arthritis problems. It’s not an unusual challenge, but it is my biggest challenge at the moment. If my knees get bad enough, I’ll have replacement surgery, but that’s not going to happen soon.

Q:     What is your diet like?

A:      My wife and I don’t think much about our diet. We don’t eat any red meat unless we go out to a friend’s house and they serve it. We tend to eat fish, lots of vegetables, lentils, and beans. We have a garden, so we eat whatever’s in season. I feel it’s a good diet, but not one we think much about.

Q:     What 1-2 things do you believe differentiates you from your contemporaries who have tailed off in their athletic participation and abilities?

A:      Many of my contemporary climbing friends, through time, have found other interests. For example, Royal Robbins became far more interested in white water kayaking, and Yvon Chouinard spends a lot of time surfing. In my case, I’m still very enthusiastic about rock climbing and ice climbing. I’ve also managed to stay healthy. Another factor is the fact that I haven’t had children. Many climbers with children continue to climb, but others find that family and job take all their time and energy. I don’t have any children, and since 1974 my profession has been my sport.

Q:      Do you have any recommended resources to share (books, seminars, websites, coaches)?

A:      I like The Freedom of the Hills, put out by the Seattle Mountaineers. I think every climber should have that on his or her bookshelf. I also like Duane Raleigh’s book,  Ice: Tools and Techniques, which doesn’t waste time with French technique, and goes right into vertical ice climbing.

Q:      Have you experienced a breakthrough, and if so, what led to it?

A:       I’ve had many breakthroughs, mostly connected with improvements in equipment. For instance, when I started climbing, we tied the rope once around our waist. Well, somebody said “Hey, we could put this around two times and it would be a lot more comfortable if we have to hang on the rope!” Then came the harness, what a wonderful breakthrough! In ice climbing I started climbing with a straight pick, and the ice axe was mainly a cutting tool; you cut steps in the ice, and climbed. You couldn’t climb vertical ice with a straight pick. When the reverse curve came along, we could easily climb things that were impossible before. I was in my late 40s when sticky rubber first was put on climbing shoes. What a difference that has made.

Q:      What was the best advice you were ever given?

A:      Don’t think you’re sport is important, it’s fun. Most of the world will tell you “It doesn’t matter.” We’re doing it because we like to do it, and if at some point in the future golf seems like more fun to me than climbing, I’ll do it instead.

Q:      Do you have a saying or motto that you live your life by?

A:       If something makes you pant or sweat, stop immediately! Only kidding. Here inNew Hampshire, our State motto is “Live Free or Die”, and I certainly don’t like that one! So I guess I’d have to say that I don’t have a saying or a motto that I live by.

Q:      Where do you draw your inspiration from?

A:       I’m inspired by the fun of climbing, the fun of adventure, the fun of exploring, and by finding something new to climb. I really like being a guide because I’m always learning new things from younger guides.

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