...So naturally, he combined the two to form production company Louder Than Eleven, where he travels the globe capturing world-famous athletes during their best—and toughest—moments. We chat with Jon about his tricks to staying motivated, working through scary situations, and how his background as a pro climber lends itself to his work now.
How did you get into climbing? How many days a week do you climb? What type of climbing do you do?
I started climbing when I was 11 in Central Virginia. Bouldering wasn’t really a thing back then . . . so we went sport climbing every weekend at the New River Gorge in West Virginia. In late high school I discovered bouldering, which seemed way cooler at the time, so that’s pretty much all I did for the next 10 years. I do all types of climbing now: sport, trad, mountains—I love it all, but deep down I’m a boulderer. I climb between four and six days a week, mixing the gym with real rock, and just getting outside to scramble around.
Word on the street is that you own a little climbing media company called Louder Than Eleven . . What sparked your interest in photography and videography?
I started shooting photos in high school on film. I always liked to combine my love for climbing with photography, so over time, that passion developed naturally into a career. I really like to challenge myself with photo and video, combining everything from producing and directing to getting to challenging places and making something rad that inspires people.
What’s a typical day like for the LT11 crew?
A typical day for the LT11 crew is less glamorous than you would imagine. Turns out, the vast majority of time spent being an adventure photographer/filmmaker happens in an office, in front of a computer. Editing, producing, organizing, and plotting the next moves consume most of the day, but once or twice a week we get out and shoot something cool. There are three of us in the office every day and our music producer works remotely in Brooklyn, so we are often bouncing ideas off each other, making calls, planning shoots, editing, and dealing with clients. It’s always busy and that’s what keeps me psyched. I have to be working 24/7.
Why do you climb? Keeping it simple is fine, but don't be shy about taking this answer as far down the rabbit hole as you want to go. We'd love to hear it.
I climb for all the reasons that most people do it. But really, the main reason I do it is for the friendships and experiences in cool places around the world doing what I love. Now I travel, climb, shoot photos, and make videos for a living which satisfies my need to always be working.
You work with a lot of elite climbers. Are there some common threads you find that set them apart from the rest of us?
I started out as a pro climber so I can certainly relate to what it is like to be a sponsored athlete climbing for a living. I think the common thread that sets most climbers apart is their relentless dedication to doing what they love. The pros that stand out from the rest typically work really hard and are naturally talented, charismatic people that others can relate to. I really admire Emily Harrington’s dedication to being a professional. She knows that photo shoots, working with reps, crag days, and speaking gigs are all part of the job and she takes them in stride. Repeating moves, spending extra time on interviews, and collaborating on video projects all really help set her apart from the crowd.
What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on at LT11? Why?
My favorite projects at LT11 involve a collection of things: travel, complicated logistics, unique and inspiring locations, world-class athletes who are fun to be around, and hard climbing. Two projects really stand out to me. The Lead Now Tour where Paige Claassen and I traveled to 10 countries around the world over 10 months climbing and giving back to the local communities through nonprofit work, and shooting Emily Harrington’s free ascent of Golden Gate on El Capitan in Yosemite. These projects were challenging in a huge variety of ways, and that’s what keeps me motivated. Dealing with complicated stuff and combining my skills as a climber to get to places most people can’t are super inspiring to me.
Have you ever gotten into a particularly dangerous situation while filming?
I was ascending a static rope on the last pitch of the Nose on El Cap, and both of my ascenders ejected off the rope and I fell onto my backup device, a micro traxion, upside down with 3,000 feet of air below me . . That was pretty scary.
When I’m super destroyed from a long day of shooting or climbing, I feel like my emotions are more flat and I can deal with fear better. For some reason, when I fell upside down, it wasn't as scary to me as it should have been.
Where’s your favorite place to climb outside?
Yosemite has to be my all-time favorite, but I love discovering new areas and new boulders and establishing climbs in areas that have been less traveled. I have spent a lot of time way up aboveUpper Chaos Canyon in Rocky Mountain National Park and fell in love with the seclusion and the potential for new boulders. I’ve made it a point to get off the beaten path and explore as much as possible!
What do you think is your biggest weakness in climbing? How do you address it?
Number one issue I battle with is shitty skin. I never stop climbing for the day because my muscles are sore; it’s always because my skin hurts too much or I’m bleeding. Being a 190-pound dude pulling down on small crimps just doesn’t work the same as it does for a 150-pound guy, it’s just a matter of physics and force. I deal with it through a combination of antihydral, liquid chalk (Secret Stuff), and good quality chalk (FrictionLabs).
What was your "aha moment" with FrictionLabs?
When I was 13 years old, a friend and I called up Frank Endo chalk and ordered 25 pounds of reject chalk for $100. When we got the chalk, we laid it out on the ground and divided it up (picture below), and we had enough chalk for at least a year of climbing. To us, this was the holy grail of chalk: the consistency, the dryness, the way it felt when you crushed it between your fingers. Over the years I have gone through every type of chalk on the market and never really had that moment where I felt like the chalk I was using was making a real difference. When I tested out my first bag of Gorilla Grip, I was blown away. I had a few more moves on every boulder before I was slipping off grips. I was staying drier longer into my session, which allowed me to extend my climb time. For me it was the little things that went a long way. I know my climbing and I know my skin, and when I can extend a session by 30 minutes or feel a little more grip than normal on a boulder, that makes a HUGE difference to me.
Tell us about a time you were in a funk and felt like your climbing skill wasn’t improving. How’d you get out of it?
Motivation is a weird thing to understand but over the years I have come to learn what keeps me psyched is diversity. I like to plan trips that keep my goals diverse and interesting.
For example, last summer I really wanted to do some mountaineering in the European Alps, so I trained differently and got fit for being fast and efficient in the mountains. This summer I am going to South Africa to boulder so I have been crazy psyched to train power for bouldering. If I always stick to one discipline of climbing I burn out and it becomes too routine. I like to mix it up to stay motivated, and when I do come back to my roots and have a goal that fits more with what I’m used to, I get crazy motivated.
What are the pros and cons of being able to mix your passion with your work?
The pros are that I get to be around people and scenarios that I love and identify with every day. It’s so rad to do what I love all day every day. The downside is that work comes first now. If I get a big job and I don’t get to climb for a week, it can be hard to keep a training routine or find time just for myself to get out and climb. When I was a pro, it was all about me. My schedule was built around climbing when it was the right time and training was the priority. Now, I train when I can but it can be really hard to nail down a routine.