By Gavin Heverly
Matt McCormick is a good friend of mine, and a familiar face around these parts. For years up until he moved up to Vermont he was a regular at the Boston Rock Gym. A positive figure in our climbing community, and always motivated to train and try new things, we were all really excited to hear that Matty had won the 1st Annual Copp-Dash Inspire award to take a trip to Pakistan to deliver books to children and to make an assault on the unclimbed Southwest Pillar of K7 West. I caught up with Matty to get the lowdown on his trip.
Gavin: Tell us a little bit about your climbing history. What was the journey that led you from the gym to Pakistan?
Matt McCormick: The progression and journey is a major part of what keeps me psyched in my climbing. Knowing that there’s always more places to go and routes to climb is really motivating. I started climbing in 1997 in Massachusetts where I mainly climbed at The Boston Rock Gym and Crow Hill in Leominister. From the start I always have been interested in pretty much all aspects of climbing; from bouldering to ice and mixed climbing. Going to Pakistan this summer was really the result of those 12 or so years of progressing through all those different disciplines in climbing and traveling to pursue my goals in each.
G: What was the application process like for the first annual Copp-Dash Inspire Award? What made you go for it, and how did it feel when you got it?
MM: The idea to apply for the Copp-Dash award was pretty whimsical. My good friend Jim Shimberg suggested that we apply (he later chose to not go) and so I did a bunch of research, picked an objective and filled out the application. More so than other grants, the Copp-Dash was really meaningful because Jonny and Micah. Although I did not know Jonny and had only hung out with Micah briefly in the Red River Gorge, their energy and spirit seemed pretty contagious throughout the climbing community. I had just landed at Logan Airport coming back from Yosemite when I got the message that we had gotten the grant. I had not been overly optimistic about my chances of getting the award and all of a sudden it was fully real that we were going to Pakistan.
G: So why K7 West Face? What was it’s appeal to you? Tell us a bit about the climb, the region, and the mountain.
MM:I’m definitely not the first person to eye the Southwest Pillar of K7 West. A few different teams have made attempts of varying significance on the pillar but no one has made it to the summit as of yet. The pillar combines both high-end rock and mixed climbing which is super appealing to me. The Charakusa Valley is a beautiful place with tons of wild flowers and streams running through base camp. Far from the cluttered glaciers of some of the bigger mountain base camps.
G:Ok, the experience and the trip itself…let’s hear it. Success? Failure? Difficulties? High Points? Low points?
MM: It’s seems that successful expeditions to the alpine are the sum of many parts. Weather, partnerships, skill, and good bit of luck. The weather really hampered our attempts on the main objective of K7 West. On each of our attempts we got absolutely soaked and ended up walking back into base camp looking like drowned rats. We managed to summit the beautiful pyramidal summit of Naisa Brakk in a pouring rain storm after repeating Tasty Talking (11-). Climbing-wise the expedition was not as successful as I would have hoped but that seems pretty par for the course the majority of time in the alpine.
One thing that stuck with me the most was the amazing people that we met in Pakistan. The Pakistani people were some of the most welcoming and friendly people I’ve met anywhere and I made many friends that I hope to visit on future trips. May f our friends expressed a perception that we were crazy to go to Pakistan due to the anti-American sentiment. What we found couldn’t have been farther from that perception.
G: Why talk about this crazy snow-capped mountaineering business on a rock gym website anyways??? In your eyes, what are the connections? Is it unreasonable for the average gym climber to aspire to go on expeditions of this nature?
MM: For me it comes down to a passion for climbing in general. Whether it’s far-away alpine objectives or trying to send your plastic project, the same energy drives you to send. My climbing started in the gym as I think it does for many young climbers these days. The future of hard alpine climbing lies in climbers taking hard free climbing skills to the mountains and climbing and training in the gym lends itself to this end without a doubt.
It is certainly not unreasonable for the average gym climber to undertake an expedition of this sort. The first steps of researching, planning and then ultimately buying the plane tickets is all it takes. There are objectives for every one of all skill levels. Interestingly, Jason Kehl and some others were in Kashmir this past summer to boulder in the alpine. Maybe this is the future of bouldering…? Expedition bouldering!