Steph Davis (40) is one of the leading women in rockclimbing, base jumping and wingsuit flying. When you check Wikipedia you learn that she is the only woman who succeded on a 5.11 climb and the first who successfully reached all mountain tops of the Fitzzroy Range in Patagonia. This alone is stunning awesome but there is much more. Steph also holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from the Colorado State University – both in English. Quite important, too: Steph is a vegan.
She is living in Moab in Utah, an area full of canyons and towers offering endless challenges and that’s where she is very active. To get an impression on what Steph is doing, please, find video-links below the interview.
Steph, when did you start climbing and how do you recall that times? I started climbing when I was 18, and I just wanted to learn everything about it. To me, it was a new world that was totally unknown—not just the physical act of climbing up a rock, but learning about ropes, knots, equipment, the mountains, traveling and living outside.
You are dealing with lots of challenges. What role do risk and danger play for you? Because I have done a lot of climbing and also base jumping that is very committing, I think a lot about risk and my ability level—it’s a really different mindset than other sorts of challenges such as things that are about pure difficulty with no risk. If I want to do something that has a lot of danger, I make sure I feel very prepared before I try it.
How is this decision-making process when you are on a route with some 100 meters of plein air under you? Normally all of my big decisions have been made before I’m actually on the route. Of course once you commit, there are things that happen unexpectedly and those decisions are more instinctive and reactive.
What about fear? The main thing is to manage fear, rather than let it manage you. At the same time, I feel it’s really important to be aware of your skill set and experience level, to remain respectful of gravity and risk. The worst thing you can do is to blindly “go for it” and put yourself in a situation where you don’t belong. The best thing you can do is to think very carefully about risk and danger and make sure you are extremely prepared for the environment you want to enter. If you know you are prepared and you belong there, you can manage the level of fear you feel.
How has climbing changed you over the years? I’ve been climbing over half my life and it has shaped me in every way. One challenge I’ve worked at for many years is to have faith enough to truly believe in the Sufi concept of joy at sudden disappointment–to believe it enough that when difficult things happen I can actually feel happy about it. I think at this point in my life I have that faith.
What is it one cannot expect from becoming a climber what people perhaps generally assume to get? Climbing is not about success or achievement, it transcends those things.
You are also keen on wingsuit „flying“ and basejumping: is it all for the kick? Flying wingsuits is primarily about being in the mountains and being in the air. It is one of the most joyful things I do, but also one of the most analytical. It also costs the most, in time, effort and loss — at the same time, it gives the most.
You are a vegan for quite a while. How did that start for you? How does it fit in your everyday life? In 2002 I decided to try different eating systems, hoping to improve my climbing. At that time, climbers thought the vegan diet was very ridiculous. I didn’t know anyone who was vegan, and everyone said it would be bad for climbing. I tried 4 other diets first, for 4 months each. Finally, just because I felt like it after doing a cleansing fast, I tried the vegan diet. After just a couple of weeks I felt better, I was climbing better, running better. So that’s why I kept doing it. After a year or two I started to learn about factory farming, how animals are routinely tortured to get inexpensive production, and once I became aware of that I didn’t even care about my own performance—I would be vegan only to keep my dollars from supporting that horrible system. Fortunately I don’t have to choose, because being vegan also makes me feel and function better. I like to cook and bake a lot, I don’t eat anything pre-made, and I eat mainly whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit. I don’t like to eat refined sugar, I usually bake with maple syrup.
How has the public reception of veganism changed over the time? Now veganism is everywhere, and many people want to be vegan. People talk about the health benefits of the vegan diet, such as reduction of obesity, heart disease and cancer. There is a lot of attention on vegan athletes. It’s great!
How do you see the future of veganism? I think more and more people are understanding the health benefits and the environmental benefits of going vegan. Many doctors say that a vegan diet can reverse heart damage and cancer. Now many restaurants have multiple vegan options on the menu. So things are changing.
What is your prefered dish? For dinner, I usually make a big salad or a stirfry with vegetables and tofu and brown rice. I love dark green vegetables: kale, broccoli and spinach. I have a very good recipe for apple pie and chocolate chip cookies, and I make those a lot.
You practice yoga daily, how do you benefit from that? I do yoga when I wake up in the morning—sometimes just 5 minutes, sometimes more. It keeps my joints flexible and makes me feel clear.
What are your next climbing challenges? What other plans do you have? Recently I have been most interested in climbing that involves base jumping, and especially wingsuit base jumping. My main goals are always in Moab, but I have been traveling more around the southwest for new wingsuit sites which are just being discovered.
Are you offering workshops in Europe, too? I’ll be in Europe this July, mainly to fly in the mountains with my boyfriend in Switzerland, Chamonix and the Dolomites. I’ll be presenting at the International Mountain Festival in San Candido on July 18-19. I coach climbing, mainly on the cracks at Indian Creek and in Moab in the spring and fall.
Final question: do you have animals? I have a black cat named Mao: he moved into my house 5 years ago and decided to stay. I also have a cattle dog named Cajun—she was found starving on the Navajo Reservation. She comes everywhere with me, and she waits at the base of towers if I am climbing, and walks up to the top and then runs down to the bottom if I am base jumping.
Steph, thank you very much.
High Infatuation (Steph’s website) – with some great vegan receipts and many informations for vegans on her blog.
You may want to order her book „Learning To Fly“ (amazon)
Fotocredit for top and bottom photo: (c) Tommy Chandler/Backcountry – http://instagram.com/tommychandler
Other / Steph Davis