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Steph Davis: Rock Climber, Animal Lover & Vegan

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Steph Davis

By: Kelly Taggart & Allen Carrasco
Photos: Keith Ladzinski @ visualmedia (ladzinski.com) & courtesy of Steph Davis

Free Climbing To New Heights

An animal loving vegan living in Moab, Utah. Steph Davis has been pushing the limits of rock climbing for two decades. She is known for gravity-defying feats such as free ascents of Yosemite’s El Capitan, climbing hard cracks in the Utah desert, free soloing long and commiting routes and for first ascents in Patagonia, the Karakorum and the Arctic.

Steph Davis Free solo climbing is described as a form of free climbing where the climber (the free soloist) foregoes ropes, harnesses and other protective gear while ascending and relies only on his or her physical strength, climbing ability and psychological fortitude to avoid a fatal fall.

Steph is also an avid BASE jumper and wingsuit pilot. She has made hundreds of jumps, including combining free soloing with BASE jumping. Aside from climbing and jumping, Steph also loves trail running and skate skiing, a form of cross-country skiing.

People always ask Steph why she climbs and her short answer is, “Because I love it.” But truthfully, Steph knows that there’s so much more. It allows her to connect deeply with friends in the natural world, to challenge her notions of what’s possible, and to live her life as intensely and as simply as she can.

‘‘ It helps me to be by myself and to do things with commitment… Risky things. Things that provoke a lot of thought.‘‘

Steph Davis “To know you are going to be able to do it without falling, there is a pretty strong mental dialogue and a pretty strong engagement with fear that takes place. I find that it’s sometimes hard to push past that fear. It’s something for me that takes a lot of thought and preparation, but I also know that I don’t have to be paralyzed by fear…. I can just go do it!”

Climbing affords this seasoned athlete lots of time to think during quiet evenings in her local desert or hanging off the side of a sheer cliff. Steph finds that it’s almost spiritual to sit quietly in a wild place to listen to the wind and the birds flying by.

‘‘To be able to free solo something is an expression of being so in control.‘‘

Steph Davis Free Fall The Early Years

In 1990, when she was a freshman at the University of Maryland, Steph began her love with climbing, learning the sport at Carderock, Maryland. She spent her summers at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and became an exchange student for a year at Colorado State University to improve her climbing skills. She enjoyed it so much that she moved to Colorado where she graduated from Colorado State University with a master’s degree in (Mountaineering) Literature. She also attended law school, but after five days of the program, she realized that it wasn’t for her and quit. Against the wishes of her parents, she packed up and moved to Rifle, Colorado to pursue her passion for climbing.

For the next seven years, Steph lived out of her vehicle, driving around to climbing areas, guiding, and waiting tables for cash. Before she started going to the mountains of Patagonia, she spent her winters in the rock climbing and bouldering mecca of Hueco Tanks in El Paso, Texas. She soon found Long’s Peak in the nearby Rocky Mountains and over two summers made 15 ascents. Eventually, she chose to make Moab, Utah her home.

Steph Davis Living Simply

Steph is a supporter and longtime fan of PETA, ASPCA, Animal LegalDefense Fund and the American Humane Association, four groups who have worked tirelessly to defend and help animals. With a lifestyle like hers, the Moab desert is the right place for Steph. She and her husband live simply in a 1968 doublewide that she has spent several years refurbishing. In addition to rigorous outdoor activities, she also spends time gardening, reading, fixing things, writing, taking pictures, doing yoga, advocating for animal welfare and cooking vegan.

In addition to writing and doing photography for her blog, highinfatuation.com, Steph Davis is also an accomplished author. She penned High Infatuation: A Climber’s Guide to Love and Gravity, which is published by Mountaineers Books and available through your favorite booksellers.

www.amazon.com/High-Infatuation- Climbers-Guide-Gravity/dp/1594850658

Performance Nourishment

Steph made a life choice to become vegan over eight years ago. Like many athletes that nourish for performance, she was seeking to find a better eating style for her climbing.

She honestly believed that she’d have issues with performance, being advised by others that veganism would leave her lacking strength and maybe even stamina. In reality, she found that it turned out to be the other way around. After about two weeks into her new eating style, Steph was seeing marked performance increases in everything she was doing including climbing and trail running.

‘‘Being vegan definitely was the performance increase for me. You eat all day long, every day, and that’s huge!‘‘

Cooking with Steph Davis High Flying Stir-Fry

Steph starts the foundation of her stir-fry with finely chopped garlic, Serrano pepper, and ginger. She adds one finely chopped yam (since it takes the longest to cook) and stir-fry oil, and then begins cooking over high heat.

Ingredients

  • 1 head of cauliflower – cut into large pieces
  • 2 cups chopped broccoli
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • ½ of a small zucchini – chopped
  • 1 ½ cups cubed tofu - included at the very end since it’s so delicate

Steph adds each ingredient, cooks until she’s happy with the tenderness and sprinkles Braggs Liquid Aminos over everything for the final minute or two of cooking. Enjoy with brown rice or quinoa and a sprinkling of nutritional yeast.

Steph Davis Q&A

What inspired you to start climbing?
I went climbing one day as a college freshman. I’d never even heard of rock climbing before, and I was immediately addicted.

Were you always this active, fearless and motivated as a kid?
I read a lot as a kid and studied music pretty intensively. I wasn’t an athletic kid, but I was extremely focused.

What were some of your notable “ah-ha” moments (like quitting law school and changing direction in life)?
The day I went climbing for the first time was definitely one of those moments. And yes, deciding to leave the academic track finally (after a bachelors, a master’s and a week of law school!) was a big move, as well as choosing Moab as my home base. Deciding to start skydiving was also a big change in direction.

Who are some of your heroes/mentors?
Layton Kor, a climbing pioneer, has always inspired me. If you could meet anyone in the world dead or alive, who would it be and what would you say to them? I would like to meet Amelia Earhart and ask her about her last flight.

Do you currently have sponsors?
I make my living as a sponsored athlete, and I work with several great companies: prAna, Evolv, Backcountry.com, MSR, Clif Barand Mammut.

How do you prepare emotionally for a big feat/ climb/ jump?
The most important thing for me is feeling prepared. I don’t like to feel rushed, and I don’t like to feel like I’m doing anything in a haphazard or “seat of the pants” way. If I know I’m ready, I’m able to approach the effort in a confident, calm way. I read a lot as a kid and studied music pretty intensively. I wasn’t an athletic kid, but I was extremely focused.

How do you stay nourished while climbing, especially on long excursions?
I eat pretty simply. On a day outing, I’ll bring along some Clif Mojo bars and Shot Bloks (one caffeinated and one regular), maybe some nuts and dried fruit. If it’s a couple of days, I’ll bring muesli and powdered soy milk for breakfast, bars for the day, and dehydrated lentil soup or brown rice Ramen for dinner.

What is your favorite playlist or artist on your iPod?
Right now I’m listening to a lot of David Guetta.

What else is on your bucket list?
I guess I’ve never had that list.

What is your next conquest?
I’m working on some hard crack routes in Moab right now.

I know that you are an accomplished writer, blogger and photographer. When can we look forward to your next book?
My next book, Learning to Fly will be out next February from Simon and Schuster.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you take with you?
A magnifying glass, a knife and a cookpot.

What is your favorite quote or saying (and by whom)?
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” - Mahatma Gandhi

What is your personal motto?
Do good and be good.

Photographer Keith Ladzinski About the Photographer

Keith Ladzinski has pursued his insatiable passion for photography since 1995, traveling the globe to catch the fleeting moments of a world few have the privilege (or nerve) to enter. Whether dangling from precarious heights, knee- deep on a snowy mountain or capturing breathtaking environmental scenes, his talent behind the camera always inspires.

Mr. Ladzinski has been recognized by American Photo, PDN and the International Library of Photography. His photos have appeared on the front page of the New York Times, as well as National Geographic, Discover, Men’s Journal, Outside, Runner’s World and ESPN with over 50 covers to his credit.

See it all at Ladzinski.com

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