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Joe Kinder Returns to Fat Camp

FL Pro Joe Kinder talks Rifle, how climbing and sponsorship have changed, getting paid to climb Everest, and more. Interview by Andrew Bisharat.

Joe Kinder has been a sponsored climber for 21 years. What’s more incredible is that, after two decades in the game, he’s just as psyched today, at age 37, as he was when he was 16, tearing up Rumney with his crew of Dave Graham and Luke Parady. And if his recent send of Fat Camp (9a) in Rifle, Colorado—a route he bolted several years ago, but allowed Jon Cardwell to do the first ascent—is any indication, he’s also climbing better than ever.

I caught up with Joe to hear more about how his perspective has changed over the years.

Tell me about Fat Camp.

It’s the big brother of Bad Girls Club (8c+). Harder, less resting, and right next door. It’s in a section of the Wicked Cave that has really bad rock. There was doubt from the climbing community that there was even a route here. One day, I was lowering off of Bad Girls Club, and Dave Graham said, “I see holds, someone should bolt that.”

Bolting took me 3 days. Then I spent 10 days cleaning the route, spread out over three years. Now it’s tip-top.

The style of climbing is good. If you’re a 9a climber, this is a route you can do quickly. It’s not complex—straightforward and gymnastic. More of a gym route.

Why did you not red-tag this route, instead letting Jon Cardwell do the first ascent?

Why did I let Jon and Matty do it first? ‘Cause I’m a nice guy. I would like it if they bolted me some routes, though. I’ve given them a lot.

But I enjoy leaving these trophies. It’s kind of a gift, giving back to culture. Being less selfish with development levels out my climbing karma.

How many 9a’s have you climbed?

I don’t know…I’d have to look at my 8a scorecard, to be honest. Not that many, maybe five.

All photos courtesy of Francois Lebeau @francoislebeau
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What’s Your Dawn Wall?

It’s been Papichulo (9a+ in Oliana, Spain). Also, the Life of Villains project, in the Hurricave. Those are the two.

Any other routes on your bucket list?

Chilam Bilam (9b in Villanueva de Rosario, Spain). I know I can do that sometime down the line. It’s an old-man route. I also want to do the extension to Bone Tomahawk (9a/9a+ in Finn Cave, Utah). I’m gonna go back to that one in April.

You hurt your finger projecting Papichulo this spring. Why do you think you got hurt?

I hurt it on one of two holds. I was using some of Patxi’s [Usobiaga] beta. Patxi has strong fingers, and my fingers have always been a little weaker. So I try to work around it. On this one hold at the bottom boulder problem, you can pinch it, or Gaston it. I was Gastoning it, like Patxi, but I probably should have been using it as a pinch. I tore my finger warming up. Just hearing it tear was the grossest noise. I knew exactly what happened.

How many trips have you made for Papichulo? Is that route still important to you?

Three. Yes, it’s still important because I’ve invested time and energy and trained for it. It stands as a big goal, and something I know I can do. It’s my anti-style. There are other 9a+ routes that I could do quicker, but this one…I gotta finish it.

What features of a route motivate you to climb?

Tufas. I love colonettes. I love pinches. I like any hold that’s not tweaky. Nothing tiny—that’s where ol’ Joe gets nervous.

How has professional climbing changed?

Social media changed everything. The ability to turn yourself into a brand. It’s not just in climbing; it’s across all sports. Self-marketing has made this a lot more attainable and accessible. You can be a s****y human and still market yourself however you want.

It’s good and bad. It makes the job easier.

What’s the most annoying s*** you see on social media?

People acting and not being real—and those people know who they are. It’s obnoxious and I can’t handle it.

It’s no longer, “I’m just giving you a picture to make you happy or provide inspiration.” It’s about manipulation, lying, turning people into suckers. I hate to see people get duped.

It’s not who I am.

What’s your pitch for why a company should sponsor you? What do you say?

That’s a tough one. It’s changed. These days I say, “I’m a sucky climber, I curse too much, and I find climbing culture to be super embarrassing half the time but … I’m a personable motherf***er. I genuinely like people. I’m approachable, easy to talk to, and not some socially awkward climber freak like I meet all the time at cliffs. I can talk and vibe. And I’m sincere about it. I sincerely enjoy people.”

It’s not, “I’ve climbed five 9a’s”…Yawn!

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Are you excited for climbing to be in the Olympics?

Yeah, definitely. I’m excited for climbing to be exposed to a wider audience. I think the format is ridiculous, but at the same time, I’m a bystander. I’m just happy climbing has progressed to this place that I never imagined it being.

The next generation of climbers will have such a sick amount of opportunity, they’re piggybacking off my generation. I’m excited for those kids. As it grows, I also hope the true spirit of the climbing world doesn’t get lost. There’s so much more to this sport than just the performance aspects. 

Who are the three most inspiring climbers to you, and why?

Daniel Woods. When it comes to just plain strength, Daniel is unparalleled. No one else can do some of the s*** he does.

Patxi Usobiaga. I like his style and approach. His motivation. He tries harder than anyone else.

And, of course, Dani Andrada. He has always been my favorite climber. His whole style. He’s a misfit, a renegade. He’s old school. Whips his arms around a lot. He’s got tiny legs that twist and bend. His passion is the thing I admire the most. Doesn’t market himself, but his climbing markets for him. When Dani is at the cliff, his testosterone permeates through the whole crag. Everybody just tries harder, all the men and all the women.

Any young climbers who inspire you?

Adam Ondra, of course.  He is pushing the sport way more than anyone else. That’s so valuable, showing people what’s possible. His devotion to reaching that next level. He takes climbing seriously, as seriously as other professional sports athletes. He brings a physiotherapist with him during his trips. It’s that kind of next level thinking.

And Ashima Shiraishi. I find Ashima one of the most inspiring climbers in the climbing game, not just because of her climbing. She’s interested in fashion, and interested in art. To have that appreciation at such a young age, I think that’s important. There are too many climbers who only know how to talk about just climbing.

What’s your diet like?

I have a butter lettuce obsession. And turkey bacon. When I’m on the road and traveling, I eat really well. Pretty simple, not a lot of sugar. Coffee is one thing I never compromise on. Usually just cereal and fruit, and a decent veggie and protein dinner. Throughout the day, chips. 

At home, in the San Fran Bay, there’s lots of food. I get pretty obsessed with going out to eat. I like Mexican food best. 

How much money would someone have to pay you to climb Everest?

It takes 3 months? [Thinks ….] I would do it for $500,000.

[Keeps thinking …] OK, I’d do it for as low as a $100,000—but no less.

What holds you back in climbing the most?

A few things. Time. I have all of the time in the world, but I’m only capable of so much and you have to prioritize your time and make decisions about what you want to focus on. Really hard climbing takes a lot of time and devotion, planning, training, and alignment. It’s a three-month endeavor to try to climb a 9a+.

Seasons/conditions really hold me back. I have really sweaty hands; my hands and feet literally spooge. That’s a big challenge, so I use a lot of Gorilla Grip. If you look at someone like Ethan Pringle, he often wouldn’t even wear a chalk bag on some of his attempts on Jumbo Love. I’m the opposite. 

What’s the most effective kind of training out there?

MoonBoard like a motherf***er. Training is very personal—that’s one thing I’ve learned. The style I am always in need of is gaining simple raw power, and training fingers through woody-style climbing. MoonBoard has been a huge benefit, and it’s a f***-ton of fun. I look forward to sessioning on the MoonBoard. I’ll go for six hours, just listening to Travis Scott, climbing alone. I get carried away. It reminds me of when I was younger, and I was skateboarding. I’d session on the half pipe for hours, just working on one trick, and just getting lost in time. I feel the same way about the MoonBoard.

What matters most to you in climbing?

At the end of the day, when you send, that feeling is so short lived. And your achievement is only impressive or inspiring to anybody for such a short period of time. 

That’s what I enjoy about route development—you can’t take that achievement away. That product I leave is there forever. My name is attached to that, and that will never go away. I’ve never been the strongest climber, and I’ve taken a lot of comfort in that because there’s no pressure to perform. Climbing hard is just short lived and that comes and goes a lot quicker than other aspects of climbing

The relationships you make, the routes you add, the cliffs developed—that stuff matters. And that’s probably just the old 37 year old me talking. I would never be talking this way at 25 because when you’re 25, you just want to go f***ing climbing.

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