Whether it’s competing in a national climbing competition or traveling across the globe, Rachael Farmer has a knack for finding herself outside. Farmer began climbing at a young age in her hometown of Flasgtaff, Arizona and has seen her passion span into a constant search of adventure. Rachael was kind enough to talk with OMM about how she discovered her passion, the incredible places she has been, and the special people she has met along the way. - Mitch
OMM: How did you get into the sport of climbing?
Rachael: I started climbing in May 2002. I remember seeing an advertisement in the newspaper for an introductory course on Friday nights at the local climbing gym and soon after joined the junior climbing team. I was never one for organized team sports with agro coaches and weight rooms so with climbing being a bit more abstract, it was something that I quickly found interest in.
OMM: Going to a climbing gym for the first time can be a little intimidating with so many experienced athletes that know exactly what they are doing. Do you remember what your first trip to a gym was like?
Rachael: I just cracked a smile as I think back to my first climbing experience. I remember being overwhelmingly embarrassed by having to wear this thing called a “harness”. Bottom line I felt ridiculous in it. Then I put on these things called “rock shoes” which uncomfortably squished all my toes together and I remember being convinced that they had every foot disease known to man growing inside them. I only complied with wearing these things because the instructor ensured me that it would get me up the wall safely and more efficiently. While I listened to the instructor ramble on about bouldering versus sport climbing and suppressed the thought of how many bare feet had previously sweat inside the rental shoes, I found myself wondering how long it would be before I actually got to climb. Finally, after about 20 minutes of instruction, the big moment came and I recall that my first climb was on a 30-foot slab with smoothed over river stones screwed into the wall for handholds. I don’t remember much of that experience, only that I made it to the top and wanted more. The rest of my memories from that night fade into a blur.
Over the first few months, I found the experienced climbers in the gym to be more motivating than intimidating. I remember watching them climb and trying to comprehend how they could physically climb the difficult routes they were ascending. With time, the awkward harness became my lifeline and I started protecting my climbing shoes like a three year old with his favorite stuffed animal. In a way, they became a part of who I am. These days, I am just as comfortable with my harness on as I am without it and my climbing shoes are one of the most valuable tools I own.
OMM: You have competed all across the country and have traveled extensively as a climber. Talk a little bit about what that is like and the type of people you have met along the way.
Rachael: When I was climbing in HP40 on the eastern side of the states, the owner of the climbing ranch explained that when he first bought the land he had no idea why all these young muscle men were showing up with beds (crashpads) on their backs and make-up pouches (chalk bags) and hiking off into the middle of the forest. He said he’d wait ten minutes and then alarmingly, he’d start to hear grunts and screams coming from the direction they took off in. It wasn’t until a number of weeks later that he realized they were climbers projecting difficult routes and that he’d just bought a piece of land that had some of the best bouldering in the country on it. It’s stories like these that I find humor in and find myself telling time and time again around the campfire.
I feel like as a climber in any climbing community you’ll always find friendly conversation simply because you already share something in common, a love for climbing. I remember walking into The Roxx climbing gym on the south island of New Zealand and asking for beta on the local climbing area Castle Hill. The climbers were warm and welcoming and although most people would think we were speaking a different language to each other with all our fancy climbing lingo, we were actually on the same page and I quickly got all of my questions answered plus a few bonus tips from the locals. It’s an awesome thing to fly half way across the world and find someone who shares nearly identical interests as yourself.
I also can’t count how many times I’ve walked up to a boulder at the Buttermilks in Bishop, CA or any other climbing area for that matter and joined another group of climbers who were working the same route I had interest in. Before you know it, you’ve had a long day of climbing, the sun is setting and you’re headed into town with them to talk more climbing and grab some grub.
This past summer, I was staying at Camp 4 in the valley (Yosemite) and every evening around dinnertime the camp starts to fill back up. Climbers are pulling out pots and pans for cooking, the communal fire is being lit, gear is being unpacked from the day packs and before you know it everyone is talking about what wall they climbed, if the weather gods favored them and what their plan is for tomorrow. A few hours later and you’ll find a stack of dirty dishes, a little black bear running through the back of camp and someone playing the guitar while everyone else chimes in to singing to the latest acoustic hit.
Locally, Flagstaff has an amazing climbing community and I would say the majority are outdoor climbers with no interest in the competitive side of climbing. I’m not sure if many people in the community understand why I compete but I’ve found that it’s okay because I get the benefits of being surrounded by a strong outdoor climbing community in Flagstaff while also being warmly embraced by a whole other side of the climbing community when I show up to state of the art climbing gyms at various locations throughout the country for major competitions. I love outdoor climbing but when I’m on the road, I also love spending time with other climbers who enjoy competition climbing as much as I do.
OMM: Describe what your first several competitive events were like. Did you ever see your passion for climbing taking you this far?
Rachael: I started out competing in smaller yet locally famous competitions like the “Cranksgiving” and “Power Play” series. I remember doing fairly well in these competitions and felt like my strength was progressing quickly. Two years into climbing, I started competing in the Professional Climbers Association (PCA), which was the top professional climbing tour in the United States at the time. In the PCA, I found myself getting absolutely crushed by experienced climbers who had been climbing for most of their lives. The unique thing was that I loved it. I knew I was young and reminded myself that I had a least half the experience of the other competitors there so I didn’t let the low placement get me down. Instead, I always walked away looking forward to the next competition.
I still have the newspaper article crumpled up in some memory box where a reporter for the local newspaper interviewed me at a speed training camp when I was 15 years old and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. At the time I had just started climbing and I told him “I want to be a professional rock climber”. I’ve had a fire of motivation glowing within me right from the start and all I needed was some time to gain proper experience, strengthen my muscles and tendons and piece together the mental aspects and strategies of competition climbing.
From there, things naturally fell into place; I went from winning local competitions to competing in the professional level ones. My most memorable moment in climbing was winning the 2004 Phoenix Boulder Blast Dyno Comp. I was a junior in high school and competing on stage in front of 750 plus raging drunk spectators. Not only was it my first big win over some top name climbers that were well established in the climbing community but, I also proudly stood on top the podium in first place next to my climbing coach at the time (now husband) who also dominated that same competition and placed first in the men’s division.
Some of my other top placements included winning the speed climbing competition at the Teva Mountain Games in 2007, turning around and taking 4th in that same competition in 2008, placing 2nd in the USA Climbing Regional Championships in 2010 and continuing to place in the upper half of professional level competitions such as the Unified Bouldering Championships (UBC), 2009-present.
OMM: What has been your inspiration throughout your career as a climber?
Rachael: Many people have asked me why I enjoy climbing or what inspires me along the way and throughout the years I still to this day, find that Chris Sharma summed it up best when he explained: “Climbing is moving meditation. To focus so single-pointedly that the mind melts away and pure awareness, energy and emotion are the only things left remaining.” I have found that climbing is an amazing experience that pushes the mind and body to new levels. It is in these experiences that I find satisfaction and insight on a personal level.
OMM: Your husband Zak is also a climber. What is it like sharing such a central part of your life with him? How has it made you a better climber?
Rachael: Zak has been a part of my climbing from day one. He started out as my climbing coach for a number of years and that slowly progressed into a friendship, relationship, and marriage so yeah, you get the picture. But let’s rewind to the climbing coach years. He has always been there to support me and push me further in my climbing endeavors and I still to this day benefit from his coaching. He has an extensive background as a professional climber that began years before I started climbing and sharing the knowledge he’s gained from those experiences had set me in the direction of becoming a stronger and more experienced athlete.
As for our relationship, we are so heavily involved in the climbing community that it only seems natural to spend evenings training in the gym together, road trip out to the crag on our days off, put a pull-up bar in the doorway to our bedroom or have the spare room filled with yoga mats, medicine balls and other various training equipment. The walls of our house are loaded with trophies, medals and framed posters that have been signed to us by other professional climbers. Climbing has really become a part of who we are both individually and as a couple. We love what climbing has brought to our lives.
OMM: You spent the month of November on a climbing trip in Thailand. Tell us a little bit about the trip and what you got out of such an incredible experience.
Rachel: Thailand offers beautiful limestone climbing and I’m sure the vast number of routes will feel limitless when we’re there. The climbing is literally on the beach or over the ocean. We plan to spend the majority of the trip sport climbing and maybe incorporate a bit of deep water soloing. Currently, our plan is to hang in southern Thailand in the Krabi region and maybe make it out to Koh Tao for a few days to change up the scenery and do some bouldering.
OMM: Your currently working as a nurse in Flagstaff. How do you balance such a demanding job with your climbing schedule?
Rachael: Yep, I’m an obstetrical and neonatal nurse here at the local hospital or more simply put, I work with mom’s and newborns. I’m currently working full time on night shift, which ends up being six nights on and eight days off. I absolutely love my job so the six nights on goes quickly and I usually get two hours of training in-between sleeping and returning back to work. When I have eight days off there are endless possibilities. I’ll either road trip or climb locally.
OMM: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into the sport of climbing?
Rachael: Give climbing a chance. I can’t guarantee that your first climb will be this glitter filled, magical experience but I can say that the more you put into it the more rewarding it will become. For me, it has become a lifestyle and the climbing community my family. It’s a great way to build upper body strength and explore other strengths you might have never known you had. The more people we can get into climbing, the more we can grow this amazing sport.
OMM: Anything else you would like to add!
Rachael: I just finished my first marathon! Running has been a very humbling experience for me and I find that it is a valuable addition to my cross training.
About Rachel: Rachael lives in Flagstaff, Arizona and climbs competitively year round. For her, climbing is about bringing forth the awareness and energy that leads towards progression. Being outdoors and surrounding herself with mountains and the beauty of nature is a tranquil experience that can’t be found anywhere else. Rachael also enjoys long distance running, traveling to other countries and exploring different cultures. When she isn’t searching for the next incredible route, she works at the local hospital as a neonatal nurse in Flagstaff.