Mission 13: An Atypical Man’s Extraordinary Climbing Journey

Do you lengthy to journey the world and climb onerous at your dream locations? One lifer ticked the journey venture of a lifetime after he turned 50. However the problem of the game climbing was the least vital half.

Jim Lawyer turned climbing into his life-style in a unique period. Within the mid-Eighties, the upstate New York native was a school pupil, working just a few jobs without delay, and taking no matter got here his means.

Quick ahead just a few a long time, and Lawyer is climbing at a excessive private customary worldwide. His latest “Mission 13” was a problem to himself and a capstone to a lifetime of climbing.

Over 5 years, Lawyer ticked 13 5.13 routes in 13 nations worldwide. He additionally climbed much more than that — he estimates the venture entailed over 60 routes 5.13 or more durable, amongst numerous others under his restrict.

To him, although, the journey meant greater than the game climbing.

“I’ve been making an attempt to place phrases round why journey is vital to me,” he mentioned. “Certain, it makes you a greater climber, but it surely additionally exposes you to the world. You understand that you simply’re a member of a world neighborhood.”

His journey tales vary far and vast. Epics embody an episode involving monkeys in Colombia, crawling via a climber’s bathroom to get better his accomplice’s misplaced lunch, and the time strangers in a shantytown in South Africa selflessly repaired what would have amounted to hundreds of {dollars} in injury to his rental automotive.

In August 2021, after 5 years of climbing and journey, Lawyer wrapped up Mission 13 in Céüse, France. We reached out to study what motivated him to embark on it, and what he realized via the method. Climbing has guided Lawyer’s grownup life and considerably formed his private development.

It began in Syracuse, N.Y.

Early Days and ‘Schwaggy’ Crags

At considered one of Lawyer’s 4 school jobs, his boss occurred to be a climber who had began within the ’60s. Lawyer met him on the opportune second — a latest empty-nester, he was starting to get again into climbing.

Be aware that mentorship was the conduit to mountaineering earlier than gyms. Within the mid-’80s, even climbing magazines had been of their infancy. Media and infrastructure for the game in America barely existed — mainstream tradition interpreted it as an outlaw enterprise.

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However having secured a mentor who had bonded to the game a long time earlier than, Lawyer was set as much as discover it.

The 2 began climbing collectively at marginal native crags. Lawyer referred to as Moss Island, the Little Falls, N.Y., crag the place he minimize his tooth, “kinda schwaggy and never superb.”

However, he mentioned, it served a distinct segment; the 30-foot outcrop match the invoice of an area coaching floor.

The “Inexperienced Traverse” on Moss Island, Little Falls, NY. “That is the place all of it started, though that is most likely late ’80s since my footwear are one step above Boreal Fires,” Lawyer mentioned; (photograph/Lucie Wellner)

Quickly, he began to enterprise additional afield. Journeys to the Adirondack Mountains, the place he nonetheless lives, the world-famous Shawangunks gave him a thirst for climbing journey. Then, he and his cohort took just a few journeys out west.

Parlaying Work Right into a Sport Climbing Life

He recalled an early epic on Yosemite’s basic “Royal Arches” (5.10- or 5.7 A0, 2,000 toes). After planning a day climb and beginning at daybreak, the occasion summited in pitch-black darkness. With out headlamps, there was no likelihood to seek out the descent. Fortunately, somebody had a lighter.

“It was freezing,” Lawyer remembered. “So we made slightly fireplace and frolicked for the night time till we might discover the [expletive] descent gully.”

Lawyer was hooked. Shortly, he began to dream past the borders of the US. When high-stoke photographs of Lycra-clad professional sport climbers in magazines like Rock & Ice started to make the rounds, he wished to get in on the motion. However he didn’t see a path.

“At first, you assume, ‘I’ll by no means try this,’” he mentioned. “‘I’ll by no means have the flexibility to do this.’ And I lived in that perception system for a lot of, a few years.”

However he stored following the dream. Within the early ’90s, he orchestrated a transfer to the PNW, the place he had already climbed Mount Rainier and Shuksan. From there, his job with a software program firm helped him begin touring the world.

He insisted on integrating climbing into early enterprise journeys to Australia, Thailand, and Japan. He took a easy method to accessing climbing by networking with locals: ask round.

“I might manage with the folks I used to be assembly, like, ‘Hey, are you aware any climbers?’ They usually’d hook me up with locals, and we’d exit and climb stuff,” Lawyer mentioned.

The strategy proved profitable, and Lawyer stored capitalizing on it. Impressed by early climbing globetrotters like fellow New York state native Russ Clune, he thought of touring pivotal to bettering his abilities.

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rock climbing sport climbing tufas
On “Morgan” (7b+/12c) within the Sikati Cave, Kalymnos; (photograph/Colin O’Connor – @colin_climbs)

By the early 2000s, his passport was plagued by stamps, and his checklist was lengthy. After efficiently retiring, he discovered himself climbing full-time. Along with climbing in 34 nations, he grew to become extremely lively within the Adirondacks, finally publishing a considerable guidebook for the expansive park.

Just lately, he turned his consideration to sport climbing efficiency. Lawyer is tall for a climber — 6’4″ — and when he modified his eating regimen to chop weight, his climbing took off. Down from 175 kilos to 150, he felt energetic and ticked his first 5.13a redpoint at age 51.

ben moon redpointing
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Mission 13 has since led him to world-class sport climbing locales like Céüse, France, and El Salto, Mexico, and to boutique backwaters just like the Cayman Islands. “Le Privilege du Serpent” (5.13a), a pumpy basic courted by many Céüse guests, stands out as the venture’s crown jewel. However Lawyer says the teachings realized alongside the way in which finally imply extra.

Sport Climbing in South Africa: Not So Black and White

Emgwenya, South Africa, is a couple of 2.5-hour drive from Johannesburg. Lots of of routes on eye-popping orange quartzite on the close by Waterval Boven draw climbers from everywhere in the world, however a lot of the locals endure excessive poverty.

Town plan of Emgwenya, like that of most South African cities, displays the nation’s fraught historical past of racial segregation. A “township” simply exterior the prosperous space the place the white residents stay holds a lot of the city’s 6,000-plus residents. In accordance with the South African authorities’s statistics bureau, 83% of the city’s residents are Black African. The overwhelming majority stay within the township, a community of tin huts and grime roads.

It additionally occurs to lie between Emgwenya correct and a lot of the mountaineering.

As soon as, Lawyer and his climbing accomplice drove their rental automotive down a street exterior the township that had not too long ago been paved. By the point they acquired out, as much as ¼” of moist tar had emulsified on the paint. Fearing the rental firm would possibly cost him to strip and repaint the automotive, he requested round to determine learn how to get the tar off.

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“Some locals instructed me you must rub it off with diesel gasoline,” he defined. “So I purchased some on the gasoline station, and I’m making an attempt to get the tar off with it. Then, the gasoline station attendant got here out and mentioned, ‘I’ve some associates who may also help you with that.’”

The station attendant made a cellphone name and shortly, one other man drove over from the township and instructed Lawyer to observe them in his automotive.

“So we adopted him proper into the center of the shantytown. When he stopped, he acquired out and checked out it and mentioned, ‘OK, we’ll get to it, and also you come again tomorrow.’”

Confronted with a choice level, Lawyer evaluated whether or not to belief the stranger. For many of us, it could be onerous guilty him for being skeptical. Most individuals in South African townships stay at a threshold of assets that might induce desperation within the common American.

Lawyer finally left the automotive within the stranger’s care. He and his accomplice walked out of the shantytown, again to their razor wire-protected home within the prosperous a part of Emgwenya. That night time, an aged white girl working at a butcher store gave Lawyer’s feminine companion the side-eye. “‘You understand, you’re very petite,’” he recollects the lady saying. “‘You possibly can’t belief the blacks.’”

Retelling the incident makes him cringe. “I didn’t purchase it,” he mentioned.

The following day, they walked again into the township and ready themselves for no matter they could discover.

“The automotive was there, and it was frickin’ model new. They not solely acquired the tar off, however they washed it and detailed the within. It appeared higher than after we picked it up, freshly cleaned from the rental firm.”

The 2 climbers paid the employees gratefully and proceeded with out incident.

‘Residents of the Planet’

Ultimately, Lawyer mentioned that touring has been instrumental in serving to him develop altruistic rules. He rebelliously rejects defensive or disenfranchising attitudes in favor of a extra open mindset.

project 13 sport climbing
On “Ashimopopo” (7b/12b) in Agiofarago, Crete; (photograph/Lucie Wellner)

“For those who by no means go away your hometown, you’ll by no means have experiences” like his within the township. Lawyer added, “And also you’ll at all times be afraid. We’re all residents of the planet; we should always all get alongside.”

You possibly can observe Jim Lawyer on Instagram, the place he catalogs his sport climbing and journey — together with episodes that showcase the Mission 13 climbs.