Alex Savage: You Never Will Learn Anything Unless You Give Up Everything

posted by dpm on 06/03/2010

There is a fine line between work and play. It is a hard balance to find. It seems that no matter how hard one works to find a balance the pull of the climbing world is too much. Alex Savage attempted to find that balance, he had a cushy job, corner office, a clean apartment, but he gave it all up…but before he left DPM caught him putting his swank furniture into storage. Before he left were able to get in a few words and here are some that Alex left on his homepage…

Starting in February and continuing for at least twelve months, I will only be a climber. I won’t have a job, girlfriend, wife, kids, or any other real responsibility. One of the many reasons I am excited about this is that it will provide a lot of time to focus on my climbing and progressing into a better, more well rounded climber.
DPM: Your name
Alex Savage
DPM: Occupation before you split for your massive trip?

Alex: Senior Financial Analyst for TriMont Real Estate Advisors
DPM: What thought went into leaving everything behind and literally being a climbing bum? 
Alex: Three weeks of vacation per year wasn’t enough time to visit family and go on climbing trips so I had to quit sooner or later to realize my climbing goals and to travel internationally. The timing made sense for me, and my friend Leslie had a semester off between undergrad and grad school, so it became an easy decision. 
Hunchback Savage
DPM: Looking back do you have any regrets or anxiety about coming back and trying to get back to where you were in life before you left?
Alex: No regrets. The ‘real world’ will always be there; I’m in no rush to get back to a cubicle! I’m enjoying life more than ever and I’m already excited about future travels to other parts of the world. I’ve never been to Asia before so it would be awesome to go there within the next five years. Actually, I do have one regret, missing my nephew’s first words. Emmett just turned one when I left the country for my seven-month international trip so I’m missing a lot of his development. 
DPM: So before you left you were tearing up the Black Mountain area, seems to be a lot of down grading? Your thoughts on past grades there and why the regrade? How important are the standards in grades?
Alex: The grades at Black Mountain are pretty solid, especially the test pieces. Bang On and Vorpal Blade could both be V13 but it’s hard to say. I don’t yet know the difference between V12 and V13; I just know they feel really hard! 
Many of the grades in Switzerland have felt soft. I wish I could just take the grade and stop thinking about it but inevitably I start comparing to past problems I have climbed and end up taking a lower grade than what is in the guidebook. On the other hand, it’s possible that we’ve gotten a lot stronger in recent months, making climbs feel easier than they used to. I think it is important to have a consensus on grades but in the end I am here to rock climb and the grade doesn’t affect the climb. 
Fiat 500 on Amalfi Coast
DPM: Your first stop was France what was your overall impression of Font? 
Alex: Font is amazing. The amount of perfect sandstone within a twenty-minute drive there is unreal. It’s a fantastic destination for climbers of all levels. Unfortunately Font left a sour taste in my mouth due to the weather. According to the locals, this is one of the worst winters they’ve had in years. The day we arrived the snow started falling hard and the roads turned into a mess; we got stuck in our car the next night trying to drive back to our tents. A great start to the trip to say the least. We had two perfect weeks in March and the rest of the weather was poor. I didn’t really project anything in Font due to the scale of the place and the lack of good weather, but at the end of the trip I was working on a rad line called Tigres et Dragon 8A. I had fallen on the last moves turning the lip a couple of times and I was psyched to finish it but unfortunately it rained for two weeks straight so we left for greener pastures in Switzerland. The line I was most psyched to have sent is Missericorde 7C+, a tall overhanging arête in Cuisinere.

DPM: Congrats on Vecchio Leone, you were able to pull it injured
Alex: Vecchio Leone is a tall inspiring line with mostly good holds spaced far apart and poor feet. It took six days, five of which were spent falling off the last move so it started to become a frustrating project. In a way the back injury helped relieve some of the pressure I was feeling to send the line since I had no expectations of doing so when I could barely walk! I’m lucky to have climbed it under the circumstances. 

One Summer in Paradise 8B. Photo by Guillaume
DPM: Have you gotten stronger as a climber simply it different from plastic training?
Alex: I never train hard in a gym, so yes I have improved strength through climbing outside. It’s hard for me to get psyched to climb on plastic, which makes it a battle to even climb a V7 indoors. I’m also scared of finger injuries, which are easier to come by in a gym. I did do some endurance training for Vorpal Blade last year but that’s about it.
DPM: Traveling as an American there are tons of stereotypes have you ran into any issues being an American and traveling through?
Alex: I haven’t run into any issues but we have met people that were surprised by our personalities. Some have the impression that all Americans are loud and obnoxious or they have some other strange preconception based on what they’ve seen on TV. We’ve encountered many friendly Europeans who are psyched to show us around their local area. Meeting unique people while traveling is one of the best aspects of the adventure. Climbers in particular tend to be friendly, down to earth people so it’s easy to gain close friends in a short time.   
DPM: What are your least three favorite things about being in Europe?
Alex : 1.) All the smokers
           2.) Crazy amount of tick marks that don’t get cleaned off.
           3.) Strange toilets – Many don’t have toilet seats, or it might just be a hole in the floor, or if you go
                 to a campsite they will have nice clean toilets but no toilet paper. 

DPM: Favorite Things?

Alex: 1.) Almond Croissants in France
           2.) Gelato in Italy & Southern Switzerland
           3.) Variety of culture and language – It’s great to meet people from a half dozen different
                 countries in a single day. 
Alex on a rad 7B. Photo by Les
DPM: How does the rock compare to home?
Alex: The sandstone in Fontainebleau is similar to the rock in the South, there is just way more of it! Switzerland has some amazing granite; in particular, the rock in Brione is the best granite I have ever climbed on. In general the rock is better than the Buttermilks but the lines aren’t as impressive.
DPM: What are your plans over the next two months?
Alex: We are in Switzerland until June 1st when we catch our flight from Paris to Cape Town, South Africa. We intend to rent a 35-year-old Volkswagen Beetle in Cape Town and (hopefully) drive it north to the Rocklands. I will be there for three months before returning to the States in August. I’ve never been to Africa so I can’t wait to check out the culture and the beautiful rock down there!
You can follow Alex from behind your desk at and dream about being bold enough to leave it all behind to climb.
All photos courtesy of