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Category Archives: Craig DeMartino

How Craig DeMartino Became a Climber

When I started climbing 30 years ago, all I wanted was to BE a climber. I wanted to be strong in every climbing discipline: trad, sport, big wall, ice, and bouldering. I wanted to be able to move seamlessly between them and practice those arts at the highest level I could. After doing it for 15 years, I was pretty solid in the arts. Then one day I wasn’t.

They call them accidents for a reason. Not one person to really blame, really just a bunch of small, insignificant actions that resulted in a catastrophic failure that got me to a hospital bed clinging to life after a 100 foot ground fall. After surviving the fall and following days in the ICU and orthopedic care, my life went from one of action to one of reaction. My movement was stifled. For the next year I would react to what doctors told me and make a design on how to best “save” what I had left. They fused my spine in the Lumbar region, my neck at the C5/6 level, and finally, I found myself back in the hospital to amputate my right leg. A reaction to the fact I couldn’t walk without a cast. The reality was that climbing and my life would never be the same with the limb I had left. After the surgery, I fought to find out what was left of my former self. I loved my wife and kids and that would never change, but being a climber was a huge part of WHO I was and it seemed I was back to square one.

I was back to wanting to BE a climber, so that’s what I put my mind to. With the help of my wife and friends, I began to build back the climber and person I was before. The setbacks and fear were huge. Most times I climbed I wanted to quit and find something new. But if you climb for a while it becomes part of who you are and what you are. It’s very hard to ignore. For me it was like denying my DNA.

The first climbs were small, but I kept moving. Movement was what felt best. Even 15 years later, sitting still makes me stiffen and have trouble moving. As the climbs got harder, so did my adjustment to my new body. My windows of opportunity were small, so I pushed hard and tried to capitalize on them. This left me completely destroyed and needing rest and recovery. Improvements came slowly, but four years after the accident I found myself climbing El Cap in under a day and actually feeling like a climber again.

As with any journey, this one was not without its setbacks. Stump infections from a shower fall kept me in and out of the hospital for months last year. It cut into my crag time as you can imagine, but through it all, my wife Cyn and I would load the van, hit the road, and keep moving.

I’ve been really lucky to climb some amazing routes first as a disabled climber, to team up with other adaptive athletes and climb El Cap unsupported, and have strong finishes in the adaptive competition scene over the years. Through it all, the idea of being a climber is what keeps me going. Today, I remember my friends and partners much more than I do the routes and comp results. To be honest, I remember very few of my podium finishes, they are fleeting moments in time. Cyn keeps a record of her proud sends, and I often don’t even remember if I DID a route. But I DO remember the climbers I’m with. The connections I’ve made over the years with other climbers and places are what drives me forward. It’s the act of being in a space where everyone understands what you are talking about, where living in a car for a period of time is normal, where being a climber is what everyone is trying to do.

Getting hurt so badly ended up being one of the best things to ever happen to me. It’s changed how I live, work, and play. In short, I wouldn’t trade it or give it back for anything. It has taught me that there is more than me in this world. It has taught me to help others and stay humble. Its shown me the depth a relationship can have. It’s made me a better human by crushing the old one.

It’s what made me a climber.

Inside Craig DeMartino’s Adventure Rig

About two years ago, I unzipped the tent fly on a cold, right around 30 degree morning, and crawled out into the frosty air. I went to the water jugs, frozen, coffee would have to wait, and set to trying to get warm. It was at that time I noticed a guy come out the door of his van, stretch, and wave at me holding his hot mug of coffee. Bastard….

After 28 years of sleeping in the dirt, it was time to move on up to a bed and some warmth!

Craig DeMartino Sportsmobile

Our two-year search yielded this beauty (2002 Ford E350)

My wife Cyn started looking online for used vans since a new one was way out of our price range. After looking for about two years, on and off, we found a van in Dillon CO which is near our home and the negotiations began. The owner was buying a new one from Sportsmobile and had been using the van for about 10 years, it is a 2002 Ford E350 V10 and came with a modest Sportsmobile conversion. We went to “look” at the van, but thats like “looking” at puppies, you leave with a puppy, or in this case, a new van.

The most important thing for us was the pop top, some of our friends had vans without and it hurt my back to always be bent over, Sportsmobile pops the top giving you an eight foot ceiling and sleeping loft which was also needed since we have two teens who travel with us.

Craig DeMartino Sportsmobile pop top

A pop top was priority #1 when searching for our new adventure rig

It needed a new water tank and a lot of updating such as new closet doors, a fridge, and solar which I set up with only getting shocked twice. Now the van can hold 20 gallons of water, plus five more if we fill up our Road Shower which sits on top, 10 gallons of propane which run the stove and heater, and the solar runs all the electric and the fridge.

Craig DeMartino Van Solar

New solar panels installed – I only got shocked twice!

We also redid all the upper bunk padding since it was pretty crushed down and had hard spots.

Craig DeMartino Sportsmobile inside

Sleeping quarters complete with new padding

I removed the running boards it came with since they hung low and would get hit on some of the roads we drive getting to crags. I did all the work myself over about a year and have it pretty much where I like it now. Cyn and I can be out for weeks at a time with no problem, and moving from a cooler to fridge allows you to stay out longer since you don’t worry about food going bad in a cooler or getting water logged.

Craig DeMartino Van

Putting the new rig to good use

Now on a cold morning I brew up a nice mug of coffee, hang out in the warmth, and then wave to my tent camping brothers with a big smile on my face.

The vision for the Trango athlete team is to find climbers who embody our brand’s values and support them in their climbing endeavors. We focus on the character of the climber, their passion for the sport, and their desire to contribute to the community.

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