Opticus Athlete: American Mountain Guide Chris Wright

Chris Write and fellow American Mountain Guide Mark Allen after putting up a new route in Ouray, Colo.

Chris Write and fellow American Mountain Guide Mark Allen after putting up a new route in Ouray, Colo.

Chris Wright claims he’s “not exactly amazing at any one discipline,” despite the fact that he puts up first ascents of alpine and ice climbing routes around North America and is one of only a few hundred American Mountain Guides (IFMGA guides in the United States). “Mountains are made of snow ice and rocks, and I’m pretty happy on most any combination of those things you can come up with,” he says. “…but the climbs that really turn me on are the ones that combine everything.”

Opticus: What are some of your more memorable experiences in the mountains?
Chris Wright: I remember a pitch on the route we put up on the Mooses Tooth (that is the official and correct spelling, despite the poor punctuation) a couple years ago that was a bit of snow to a tension traverse, to some rock climbing, to an ice chimney, to this wild overhanging rimey thing that ended in some drytooling; it’s one of the best pitches I’ve ever done. I remember another one maybe 4000 feet up the wall that was a delicate iced corner to a splitter handcrack, which is still fun even in big boots, gloves, and crampons… Those are the memories that are special for me. Plus I think I’ve got the skewed sense of fun and short memory that are key to hard alpine climbing. I can convince myself a lot of bad ideas are good ones, and I think that’s important in an alpinist. That, and being creative. I like to think that’s where I can shine a little.

Opticus: What do you do for a living?
CW: I’m a fully-certified IFMGA Mountain Guide, and I work year-round in a variety of different venues. Every year is something new, but the last few have included work in the French, Swiss and Italian Alps, the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway, the Canadian Rockies, and of course the Pacific Northwest. I’ve been based out of Bend, Ore., for the last ten years, and even if I’m not around much it’s always nice to come home.

Opticus: What are your goals and dreams?
CW: To be happy and satisfied? I think that’s really the answer, but in terms of climbing the list just goes on and on. I’m always trying to scheme the next expedition, but really it’s not that important what the peak is so much as what we bring to it. In a material sense I want to keep coming back to the high mountains to do new routes on new peaks, but ultimately I just want to know that I’m growing as a climber and as a person and the big climbs are really just a reflection of that. However, I’d love to get back to Nepal a few more times, I’m dying to get to Pakistan and Patagonia, and I’m hoping conditions are good for some new routing in the fjords this year. Oh, and if the Eiger Nordwand comes in this spring I’d be pretty happy with that, too.

Opticus: How would you describe yourself?
CW: I think I’m a pretty quiet, kinda introverted guy in general, and I’ve always been way more inspired by the quiet heroes and adventurers than the big shiny stars. I think my influences are pretty bookish, and I can’t help intellectualizing and over analyzing everything. Luckily climbing is a place where all of that can be fine and even useful. For me it’s all about working through things and trying to grow and experience life in the most genuine way possible. Climbing just happens to be an outlet where that sort of thing makes sense to me. People have come up with all sorts of high-minded ideas of why they climb (myself included), but I think for me it’s just one way that I can feel like I’m really being the best version of myself while sharing meaningful experiences with people I care about. In a really really simple sense, what else is there that’s more important than that?

Opticus: Is there anything I’m not asking that you want to share?
CW: If I had to rank my obsessions, climbing is number one but is followed closely by food and coffee. I have a lot of embarrassing pictures on my phone and none of them involve nudity.