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Hello Hello Hello

Kurt Smith
early developer of
Potrero Chico, Mexico - 2001

Kurt at HorsePen 40 Kurt on Mortal Combat V4,
HorsePen 40 Kurt on a V6 at
Cochise Stronghold Kurt getting hosed off
in the Pool 
at Potrero Chico Kurt on a V3 highball
at Rocktown


FRB: You are very well known in the climbing world but some folks might not have heard of you, who is Kurt Smith?

Kurt: Well that's a tough one. I am a climber of 22 years who grew up in Lake Tahoe and started climbing in Yosemite in 1980. I am passionate about first ascents and climbing is my life.

FRB: How did you get into climbing Kurt?

Kurt: Rick Lovelace got me started in high school in Lake Tahoe in 1979. We went out and bouldered and did what routes we could get up with hexes and a swami belt.

FRB: You've climbed a long time, what keeps you going?

Kurt: It's a simple answer. Climbing is in my soul, in my blood and an addiction I am proud to have. The desire for adventure and seeking out first ascents is my motivation. I have had periods where the passion is not too bright, but a good f.a. gets that out of the system.

FRB: Who were some of your early mentors?

Kurt: Warren Harding, Layton Kor, Tom Herbert, Jim Bridwell, Ron Kauk, Mike Lechlinski and John Bachar were my mentors. John was the one who brought me under his wing and showed me what bouldering, training, soloing and putting up routes in good style were all about. It's because of him that I have become the climber that is still psyched on the sport.

FRB: Who were some of your early climbing partners?

Kurt: Rick Lovelace, Mike and Dave Hatchett, Tom Thompson, Ken Ariza, John Bachar and many others.

FRB: Did you ever climb with Layton kor?

Kurt: No, but one of my memorable meetings with him happened in Rifle the first day I went there to bolt. Mike Pont and I were racking up to hook and bolt 'Vision Thing' and I see this really tall guy walking down the road with a fishing pole. Lo and behold it's Layton and he's like, " What's up, boys? I knew you'all would find this place someday. I climbed here years ago and knew this place had good lines to climb." We asked him if he wanted to hook and drill a bolt, but he was just happy to watch. Cool first day in Rifle for me!

FRB: What are some of your early first ascents?

Kurt: My first f.a. was with Mike Downing in J.Tree. A 5.9 that I drilled 5 bolts on in 1982, ground up, of course. That set the fire in me and I have been in the endless quest ever since with over 500 under my belt.

FRB: What are some of the FA's that really challenged you?

Kurt: Boy there have been a lot. Mentally it would be three routes in Tuolumne meadows: the unrepeated 'Burning Down The House 5.11c' on Fairview Dome - 8 pitches, 7 lead bolts and lots of scary 5.10 and 5.11 climbing done with Steve Schneider in 1984. 'Math Of The Pastor 5.11' on the Whales Back - 2 bolts for 120 ft. and, 'Grace Under Pressure 5.12' - an unrepeated route as well done in 1986. These routes pushed me mentally and brought me to the end of disaster. For routes of the physical nature, it would be 'Slice Of Life 5.14', - if you don't use the 11 knee bars and don't care to get stronger. Trying to free the 'Muir Wall' ground up on-sight and 'El Sendero Luminiso' in the Potrero Chico. Those route will always stick in my mind as character building.

FRB: First ascent boulder problems?

Kurt: There have been tons of them, we never named them or sent them into the magazines back in the day and really still don't. I don't climb for 'hot flashes' and if you want to see what I'm up to come to one of my slide shows or Mexico.

FRB: Do you still boulder?

Kurt: Yes. I have always loved bouldering since my first day climbing and I try to boulder when we travel as there is no bouldering in the Potrero Chico.

FRB: You did an early ascent of Midnight Lightning (without pads) what was it like?

Kurt: I did the 4th ascent right after Skip Guerin in 1984. It was my project from May until October when I finally did it, and then repeated it three times that week just to make sure it was not a fluke! It was a battle for me. I fell off each move so many times and made slow progress, but learned to stick with it knowing it would happen. Giving up is the worst thing you can do for your climbing and psyche. Without pads, bouldering was a very committing aspect of climbing and you did not have the option of just falling off, you either down climbed, sent it or smacked the deck hard. It's a different game now and I love my Misty Magnum Pad!

FRB: You were instrumental in the early development of many climbing areas, what can you tell us about that?

Kurt: There's nothing like finding an area or being in on the ground floor of developing one. It's the thought of entering the unknown everyday and coming away with something at the end of each day that makes climbing so satisfying. To create is the best reward in life. To leave good routes in your wake for others to enjoy is the biggest reward of my life. To have someone come up later and find out what they liked or disliked, what adventure they got out of it is a very good feeling.

FRB: How did you find out about Rifle?

Kurt: Mike Kennedy first told me about it in the late 1980's and then Pete Zoller went up and checked it out and raved to Mike Pont and I, and the next weekend we were there. I was psyched to see such a large, steep canyon with no bolts in it. The perfect canvas for my work.

FRB: What first ascents did you do at Rifle?

Kurt: I bolted 'Vision Thing', 'Cryptic Egyptian', 'Slice Of Life', 'Daydream Nation' ( I drilled a pocket but then filled it in later and resent it, I hear now the pocket is back?) and a ton more but have forgotten the names.

FRB: You climbed in the Cirque of the Unclimbables, what did you do there?

Kurt: In 1994, Scott Cosgrove, Jeff Jackson and I spent 6 weeks on Mt. Proboscis in the Cirque. It is an amazing wall that has huge potential for free routes. Similar rock to Toulumne Meadows. We did a 18 pitch 5.12c route from the ground up! It was a blast being so out there away from the world. I would love to go back.

FRB: You've been an integral part of the evolution of sport climbing, what can you tell us about that?

Kurt: I was against rap bolting and hangdogging in the late 1980's because I felt that the roots of tradition would be lost on the new generation. I felt that if it was your area do what you want, but if you came to Yosemite or J.Tree, you should honor the ethics of those areas. It was a losing battle that John Bachar and I fought. But in the end it's the result of evolution. I have tried to put up all my routes from the ground up because I enjoy the thrill of aid climbing and putting in good bolts. I think climbers now need to follow what is in their soul, respect others and respect the land and rock. It's a resource that will not be around for long if we don't take care of it. Join the Access Fund and help us preserve what we have and keep what we may find.

FRB: What was the climbing scene like in the '80's as compared to now ?

Kurt: in the 1980's it was a mental game and more relaxed. Now it's about competitions, numbers and sending it into the mags every time you add a move to a route or a new boulder problem. Hype is bigger now than then. In the end it's all about having fun and being challenged.

FRB: How did you find Potrero Chico?

Kurt: I did not find it. The Austin Texas climbers did. Jeff Jackson, Rick Watson and Tony Faucett got it started and Jeff brought me in 1992. I fell in love with it and have made it my lifes work to create a killer place for all to enjoy.

FRB: How many routes are there now?

Kurt: There are about 350 routes, and about 475 pitches of climbing so far. That is about 30% potential of that and the surrounding areas. There is 100 miles of limestone to be developed around the Potrero Chico.

FRB: What is the scene like at Potrero Chico?

Kurt: Its fun. Its more than just climbing. Meeting new people, learning a new culture and way/pace of life. Chilling at our Rancho Cerro Gordo and drinking cheap beers, good Carne Asada and swimming in the pool for your rest day. Life is good in the Potrero.

FRB: You're working for the Access Fund these days, why?

Kurt: It bothers me immensely that there are about 400,000 real climbers in this country and the Access Fund only ever gets about 11,000 to join each year. What's the problem here? They are our only voice in Congress and they are the only ones trying to get climbing areas back open (Hueco, HP 40, etc.). Yet climbers don't care? Only after their local area is threatened or closed do they get involved. It's our duty as REAL CLIMBERS TO JOIN THE ACCESS FUND! The snowmobile lobby had 700,000 members and when they want something from Congress they get 700,000 letters written. Congress listens to them, not us. If you're happy with the way things are then don't cry to me when we are all climbing plastic on our weekends. Don't get me wrong, I like plastic but I like to be outdoors to climb as well.

FRB: What can climbers do to help the Access Fund?

Kurt: Join every year, get your partners and friends to join, get involved in your area, organize trail work and cleanups and don't be afraid to dis someone when they leave their trash, tape, cigarette butts, trample the plants and don't stay on the trails. Care about the future of climbing.

FRB: Does the Access Fund have any influence in Mexico?

Kurt: No. We build the trails and maintain them, organize cleanups and we have gotten a grant from the American Alpine Club last year for trail materials. Elaina Arenz and I are the caretakers of the Potrero and proud of our work there. Come and play with us.

FRB: Got any big climbing trips coming up?

Kurt: We are on one right now. April to November all across the US doing fund raising parties for the Access Fund. We have done 16 shows so far, gotten over 500 new members and raised over $16,000 so far! We have 13 more shows to go and could not have done it without help from the Access Fund, Ropegun, Misty Mountain, Scarpa, Black Diamond, Sol, EntrePrises, Gregory, Last Chance, ClimbingMotion.com and Rock and Ice. They have supplied us with raffle product and gas money to keep this tour coming. Look for it next year bigger and better.

FRB: Who are you sponsored by?

Kurt: Black Diamond, Scarpa, Ropegun, Beal, Gregory and EntrePrises.

FRB: What does the future hold for Kurt Smith. What are you going to do in the future.

Kurt: Climb, bolt and work for the Access Fund. And have fun.

FRB: Will you ever quit climbing?

Kurt: No, that would be stupid. Then I would have to get a real life and a real job.

FRB: You must have had many interesting adventures, can you share some of them with us?

Kurt: Too many to share. Being on the edge every day in the 1980's and pushing my partners and myself. That is what the last 22 years have been about.

FRB: How are things down on the Ranch?

Kurt: Rancho Cerro Gordo and potrerochico.com is coming along nicely. We are building a true climbers paradise and having fun being the hosts. Elaina and I get married in November there and want to raise a family in Mexico and support Mel Gutierriez my mexican partner and his family. Life is good.

FRB: What is the best time of year to go there?

Kurt: October to May.

FRB: What supplies do climbers need to bring with to climb at the ranch? Is it strictly a Sport climbing area?

Kurt: Yes it's sport climbing, one pitch to 20. Bring 20 draws, 70m rope or 2, 60m ropes, all the clothes, etc. for your standard trip and we will hook you up at the Rancho. You can e-mail us off potrerochico.com and make taxi and camping/casita reservations.

FRB: What changes would you like to see in the climbing world.

Kurt: I would like to see cohesion and cooperation among generations. I would like to see all climbers join the Access Fund.

FRB: Any words of wisdom you can give to someone just starting to climb.

Kurt: Seek out proper instruction and partners and have fun. It's supposed to be fun.

FRB: How about training tips. What do you suggest for training.

Kurt: Train hard in the gym and boulder as much as you can.

FRB: Kurt, thank you for the interesting interview, and thanks for all your work with the Access fund.

Kurt: Thank you. Keep up the good work and don't forget to join the Access Fund! See ya in Mexico.

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