Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Angela Payne began climbing indoors at the age of eleven. Payne spent the next five years participating in junior sport climbing competitions before becoming focused on bouldering. Upon moving to Boulder in 2003 to attend the University of Colorado, Payne employed her plastic pulling skills to win three ABS National Championships and two PCA competitions in the 2003-2004 season. Over the next six years, more than ten top three finishes were added to Payne’s competitive bouldering resume.
Her success isn’t just limited to the indoor realm — Payne has numerous notable outdoor ascents under her belt. Between 2004 and 2010, Payne completed first female ascents of 17 boulder problems V10-V12. In 2010, after climbing European Human Being (video) V12 and No More Greener Grasses V12, Payne completed The Automator (video) and became the first woman in the world to climb a confirmed V13. These accomplishments earned Angela two Climbing Magazine Golden Piton honorable mentions and the 2007 Everest Award in Women’s Bouldering. Payne currently resides in Boulder, Colorado, where she works as a veterinary assistant.
Taking the Plunge: Angie Payne
Angie Payne will always remember the summer she graduated from high school. “I had never really left home alone for more than a week at a time, and I just felt the need to explore a little on my own,” says the twenty-six year-old Ohio native. “My neighbor built a bed in the back of my truck for me and I convinced a friend of mine to go.” Embarking on a tour of National Parks and climbing areas, she noticed the limitless potential for climbing all over the West. “That trip landed me in Colorado, where I moved for college, and that was the beginning of the bigger adventure of moving away from the Midwest, where I was born and raised.” It also marked a turning point in Angie’s rise from energetic girl who liked to burn her older brother off problems at their local gym, to one of the world’s leading bouldering talents and inspirations.
Angie is quick to credit her immediate family with introducing her to the outdoors. “My dad took me and my brothers on annual camping trips and I fell in love with the woods,” she says of her early childhood. “I spent many days playing in the wooded lots around my neighborhood, building forts and climbing trees.” A few years later, at the age of 12 she discovered technical climbing at her local, Cincinnati gym, RockQuest. “I had three main mentors from the very beginning of my involvement in climbing…”, Angie remembers. “Lynnette, Margarita and Rene were my coaches from the day I walked in the gym. All three were amazing climbers, and I wouldn’t have the technique I do without their influence.”
Payne eventually settled in Boulder, Colorado, where she studied sociology at the University of Colorado, won three ABS National Championships, and steadily accrued a ticklist of hard boulder problems and first female ascents across the West. With her ascent of The Automator in Rocky Mountain National Park in 2010, she became the first woman to climb confirmed V13.
Now working “part-time plus” as a veterinary assistant, Angie looks back on her journey this far and realizes and that some of the sweetest moments came only through adversity. Angie recalls finding unexpected solace in Rocky Mountain National Park while battling with one project, European Human Being. Because of a busy schedule – Payne was simultaneously taking classes and holding down a job – she was often forced to work the boulder problem alone, by headlamp. “I spent a lot of time lying on my crashpad looking up at the stars, and somewhere between fits of anger and self doubt, I realized that the activity that was causing my frustration had also brought me to this serene place,” she says.
Describe a memorable experience that helped shape who you are as a climber.
When I was 19 I went to Yosemite for the first time. However, unlike most climbers who travel to the Valley, I was there exclusively for the bouldering (gasp!). At that time in my life, Midnight Lightning was something that only existed in the magazines, as was Tommy Caldwell. So, when I watched him make that boulder problem look like it was a warm up (right after hiking every hard boulder problem in the vicinity), it was almost surreal. I became obsessed with doing Midnight Lightning, and after dropping off the mantle about a thousand times, I finally did it. That accomplishment specifically, and that trip in general, were very inspirational for me. I have a photo on my bookshelf of Tommy spotting me on Midnight Lightning, and looking at it never fails to motivate me.
In 2010 you had to take eight months off to deal with a serious ankle injury. What’d you learn during the rehab process?
I had a completely new appreciation of my ability to move, and I realized that climbing was something that was a part of me that I didn’t want to live without. I seemed to climb with more intention, and I started to feel strong again. I decided to do a competition, something I hadn’t done in a long time. I didn’t have any expectations for myself, which is probably why it was the most fun I have ever had competing. I smiled almost the entire time, and fed off the energy of the crowd. There is a photo that captures the pure joy I felt during that event. It shows me hanging from a jug on the final problem, looking back at the crowd and smiling one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever smiled. That moment was a turning point in my climbing, when I realized that my injury hadn’t ruined climbing for me, but had instead made it better than it had ever been.
With the spring rock season here, what’s most inspiring for you about this coming year?
In Colorado, the best bouldering doesn’t melt out until summer, so my spring will be spent focusing on staying fit and traveling to lots of fun new places for competitions. I am very psyched to have a full schedule that will take me to Canmore for a World Cup Bouldering event, to Vail for a World Cup, to New York City (I’ve never been there!) for a comp in Central Park, and finally to Arco for the World Championship Bouldering competition. I am very excited to use these events as motivation to stay in shape so that when the alpine bouldering season comes in Colorado, I am ready to get to work on some projects in Rocky Mountain National Park and at Mount Evans.
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