Swinging against a one thousand foot vertical rock, Matt Wilder ’97 scanned the granite surface for a crack to wedge his metal grip. Hundreds of feet below on another nearby vertical wall, his partner watched Wilder run his chalky hands over the rock in search for the right grip.
To those who have never experienced rock climbing, these notes from Wilder’s climbing adventures may sound like worst-case scenarios or the stuff of nightmares.
Wilder’s show, “Bouldering Above Gear: A Synthesis of Distant Disciplines” focuses on climbing but explores the more general questions of what it means to accept challenges, what state of mind is required to perform at a high level when serious consequences exist and how to balance enjoyment with failure.
Wilder gave his presentation and a workshop for members of Outdoor Pursuits on Wednesday, September 28. In his presentation, Wilder discussed the technical aspects of rock climbing and showed several short videos and photos from professionally made movies of him climbing at all angles.
“I hope that my presentation will inspire people to get out and rock climb. The focus is on rock climbing, but beyond that, I hope people will get out and find what they are passionate about and push themselves in ways they feel motivated to and really just try to tap in to their full potential.” said Wilder, a former teaching fellow in mathematics at Andover.
Since his Upper year, Wilder has been climbing routes some of which are the most challenging in the United States and possibly the world.
He was the first person to climb the south face of the Washington Column and “Cheating Reality” in Yosemite National Park, the Golden Bullet in West Virginia, “Pyromania” in California and “Moonlight Buttress” in Utah.
Mark Cutler, Instructor in Spanish and director of Outdoor Pursuits, said, “It was a treat for the students. They didn’t seek him out, but a lot of them knew his name. They were pretty psyched that he was here.”
“He’s the only speaker we’ve had [in conjunction with Outdoor Pursuits]. It will probably be one of the only ones we’ll have because he’s such a special person. He’s a member of the PA community, and it’s really special for us to bring him back and that he’s reconnecting with the school.”
Students found Wilder’s presentation gave them inspiration for rock climbing and pursuing challenges in general.
Patrick Naughter ’13 wrote in email to The Phillipian, “As a beginning climber I found his talk really motivating because it shows his determination and drive to succeed in climbing. I also thought his goal behind climbing was extremely insightful.”
“He seeks difficult climbs not for the danger or the adrenaline rush, but rather to push him limits physically and mentally. His mental capacity for challenges seems to be infinite and his desire to problem solve is a really cool thing to hear about.”
Echoing Naughter’s sentiments, Mike Queenan ’13 wrote, “At the clinic it was awesome just to see someone with his skill. Learning about how he started rock climbing during his presentation also really inspired me to climb more, and to do what I’m passionate about as much as I can.”
According to Wilder, the goal of climbing is to find something that no one has done before and try to accomplish it. He currently owns half of dozen to a dozen first ascent route titles and many more for boulders.
Despite his successes, Wilder still finds challenges waiting for him to carve new routes through.
“There have definitely been a few climbs that have stymied me. There is one near my home in Colorado where I have continually tried over the years and come very close but still failed in the end. So there are definitely challenges out there still waiting for me,” Wilder said.
As a student at Phillips Academy and Middlebury, Wilder said he was always inspired by inspirational speakers.
“Since I’ve been a professional climber, I’ve always had in the back of my mind the desire to come and do a tour like this where I share my experiences with all these people.”
Besides rock climbing, Wilder is also working for his Ph.D in computer science and a masters in applied math at the the University of Colorado in Boulder, CO.
“I would [imagine] that I will either be in some sort of tech industry or perhaps teaching at a high school with a passionate student body. In 20 years, I might even be able to climb with my son,” said Wilder.
Wilder believes that climbing is an accessible sport to people of all ages and builds. There are so many facets it’s readily available to everyone.
“Climbing will always be a part of my life . Whether I end up teaching or working some at job in industry, my main goal is to have interesting challenges.”