The Bangor area is home to a sizable community of rock climbers. With the cliffs in Clifton, the Maine Bound climbing wall and professional climbing guides stationed at Alpenglow Adventure Sports in Orono, the area is a magnet to those aiming to don a harness and scale a rock wall.
But what really fuels enthusiasm for a sport is to have a professional relate his thrilling experiences, and for rock climbing, no one could be more qualified to talk about traditional climbing and bouldering in America than renowned climber Matt Wilder, who will retrace the steps of his most challenging climbs in a visit on Oct. 1 to Neville Hall room 101 at the University of Maine in Orono.
“Through this multimedia show I’ll try to figure out why I tend to find myself far above gear with hard moves between me and safety — a question I ask myself often,” Wilder recently wrote in his blog of the presentation entitled, “Bouldering Above Gear: A Synthesis of Different Disciplines.”
Wilder seeks out challenging routes, scaling rock faces that have never been successfully climbed before. His enjoyment of solving everyday problems is only magnified when on a cliff, where his problemsolving methods are truly put to the test. He is now able to blaze new climbing routes and tackle the toughest climbing problems in the world.
“Basically, I’ll tell the story of what climbing means to me and how it developed me as a person,” said Wilder in a recent phone interview.
He has been featured Climbing Magazine, several other publications and was recently featured in the 2010 film “CORE” and the 2011 film “SCENE.” His media-appointed nickname is “Quiet Crusher.”
“I have a reputation for doing hard things but not necessarily promoting them until everyone’s ears are chewed off,” said Wilder of the nickname, which he never uses to describe himself.
Originally from Connecticut, Wilder, 32, discovered his passion for climbing while at a Massachusetts summer camp at age 14. He now lives in Boulder, Colo., a rock climber’s dream home, with his wife, Sandy, and their 4-month-old son Bayes. He only has to travel 15 minutes into the mountains to find some of the most difficult climbs in the country.
His UMaine presentation — sponsored by Jon Tierny from Acadia Mountain Guides and Alpenglow Adventure Sports, Epic Sports and Cadillac Mountain Sports — will be a part of a New England tour during which he’ll stop at seven other locations.
The show, which will include photos and video footage, will culminate with a personal narrative of his experience establishing two new 5.14 traditional routes — one on the Viceroy in Boulder Canyon, Colo., and Cheating Reality, a monolithic Devil’s Thumb formation near Boulder.
For those who don’t understand all the numbers that accompany route names, climbing routes are graded by classes 1-5. Class 1 is walking on even, often planar surface; while class 5 is considered true rock climbing, a route that is predominantly vertical on vertical rock. The classes are then made more specific by decimals and then letters (from “A,” the easiest, to “D,” the hardest).
“In my climbing, I have two pursuits,” said Wilder. “I have a strong interest in bouldering and a strong interest in climbing longer routes, rope climbing.”
For his first ascent of The Viceroy, 5.14a/b, Wilder ascended to the most difficult section, the crux, approximately 60 feet off the ground, and his last piece of gear was about 15 feet below him. If he fell, he would have fallen 15 feet and then another 15 feet until the rope stopped him — and then hopefully the piece of gear he wedged into a crack in the rock would hold him. Luckily, he didn’t have to test the gear. He didn’t fall.
“It required a different sort of head space,” said Wilder. “You have to have to be absolutely confident in your ability, and you need to be able to keep the tightest focus to execute the route.”
Though he has established some of the most difficult routes in the world, his quest for the ultimate traditional route continues. Some day, he’s hoping to find a route that combines runout 5.13 climbing (minimal protection) with a fairly well-protected V13 or harder boulder problem.
Bouldering is rated from V1 to V16, easiest to most difficult. He has already been successful at boulder climbs Mandala V14 and Swarm V14, two difficult boulder problems in a popular climbing area in California, the Buttermilks.
As author of the bouldering guidebooks for Hueco Tanks and Yosemite Valley, Wilder is well-versed on the history of bouldering in America, a knowledge he plans to share with those who attend the event.
The weekend before coming to Maine (Friday-Sunday, Sept. 23-25), Wilder will compete at the 2011 Nor’Easter Outdoor Sports and Music Festival in Burlington, Vt.
“I’m also heading down to West Virginia’s New River Gorge to climb for a couple of days, and I’m looking into a new route,” said Wilder. “It could be the route I’m looking for.”
Admission to the University of Maine presentation is $5 at the door. For information, call 581-1710. To follow Wilder, visit his blog at mattwilderclimbing.blogspot.com.