Living, climbing, and working in Yosemite Valley, California with Mountain Hardwear athlete Cheyne Lempe.
For most of us — it’s a distant dream. Live full time (legally) in Yosemite Valley, California. Climb some of the best granite in the world as part of your job. Live in a small tent cabin in the famous Camp 4. For Cheyne Lempe — it’s just another day in the life. WORDS: Cheyne Lempe. PHOTOS: Cheyne Lempe. VIDEO: Taylor Morgan.
Mountain Hardwear: What attracted you to Yosemite? What about it made you want to live there?
When I was 15 years old, I took this class in high school called Adventure Education. My teacher showed us a video of climbers on El Capitan in this crazy place called Yosemite. Seeing those guys up on the wall through the TV screen blew my mind, and I was hooked. I got a haul bag for my 16th birthday when I started climbing, and would fill it with rocks and rappel off of the roof of my house to train for my first big wall. Three years later, I came to Yosemite to climb El Cap for the first time. That trip changed my life.
Mountain Hardwear: We all have an emotional connection to the places that nurtured our outdoor adventures. Talk us through a couple of events that really cemented a special place in your heart for Yosemite.
During my first trip to Yosemite, I looked up and felt very small and insignificant compared to the surrounding granite giants towering over me. I knew that there was a huge amount of skill that I didn’t have yet to be able to climb those walls. Since then, I’ve have fully immersed myself in learning how to move efficiently in those vertical environments.
The walls are unforgiving, and I’m always in for a good beat down each time I commit to climbing them. The first time I climbed El Cap I thought that I might quit climbing because of how miserable and scared I was. I’m always completely humbled up on the walls, and it gives me the clarity needed for personal growth.
Mountain Hardwear: Working on the Search and Rescue team in Yosemite is a climbers’ dream. How did you decide that you wanted to pursue that path?
I was 19 years old and I was not stoked on life. I was flunking out of school, dealing with some depression, and felt like a total failure. I drove out to Yosemite from Colorado with some friends to climb the difficult aid line Zenyatta Mondatta on El Cap in the middle of winter. The challenge was monumental, and had an enlightening experience where I realized that with an open mind and unrelenting stoke, I could do essentially whatever I wanted with my life.
“If I could do anything in the whole world, I would be on a climbing search and rescue team,” I remember telling my friend Colin Simon as we drove back to Boulder after we stood on the chilly summit of El Cap. For the next two years I was chasing that dream, and my persistence paid off when I finally landed a position with YOSAR.
Mountain Hardwear: What are a couple of projects on your radar for the rest of 2014 and into 2015?
I’m really psyched on learning the process of climbing new routes here in Yosemite, and there are a few unclimbed big wall lines that I’m really excited to check out this fall. My job with YOSAR is seasonal, so it gives me the ability to travel 5 months out of the year. I just bought plane tickets to Nepal, India, and Greece with my girlfriend this winter.
Spring of 2015 I’m hoping to go to Baffin Island with a hero and huge inspiration of mine, Mike Libecki. Ninja free climber and totally rad guy, Ethan Pringle, would come on the expedition as well. Everything I have climbed in Yosemite has been training for monster walls in other parts of the world, and I’m psyched beyond belief to have some beautiful adventures!