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Climbing "Player" Profile: Justin Jaeger – VOLUME 1 – SEPTEMBER, 2006

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I have not done Fern Roof. I was a bit short for the conventional beta and learned how to lock off the pictured sloping pinch, but ran out of gas and time to finish it off. Shameful!Photo Keith Ladzinski


I met September’s Player one fall day while bouldering with friends of mine at Mount Baldy in South Dakota. We assumed — as history had taught us — that we’d be alone on Baldy that day; however, Justin and a couple of his Colorado friends walked up the trail, totally surprising us.

If I remember correctly, he had three pads strapped to his back, a feisty Australian sheepdog, a stickbrush, and dripping with sweat. I have since come to understand that he arrives to all boulders sweating profusely, because he takes such a fevered-pace when approaching. For the normal hiker, he’s running. That day — Justin’s first time at Baldy — I witnessed him dispense with nearly every V7 and V8 I knew of, flashing several, doing most in a few burns, seldom projecting. I also witnessed him get throttled on V9s (I’m not sure he did one that trip), which surprised me given the strength with which he sent the preceding.

What shocked me most about Justin’s climbing was not the sending, but the psychotic blitzkrieg approach he took to sending EVERY boulder problem. He literally looked helpless against their pull. At the end of the first day, Justin bled from every other fingertip. The next day, he taped and kept burning through the problems. Having dispatched over half the problems at Mount Baldy by the end of day four, still climbing from dawn to dusk, Justin had every finger taped, his palms were rubbed raw, and he had blood-dried cuts on his arms, legs, and ankles.

I generally cannot do dynos, so my head almost exploded when I heard that there was a way to static Free Willy at Hueco. On our third day we found it dry despite an unusual rain and I was able to latch the bomber lip on link, right as my right crimp was peeling off. I had to climb without my cracks and flappers taped to not blow the crimps.Photo by Kieth Ladzinski


He’s the guy who works a full-time, professional job, but manages to climb as much — or more — than the professional climbers with unlimited time on their hands. He doesn’t climb super hard. He climbs where he can, when he can. He’s the everyman. You will see him when you get up early to walk your dog; he’s the guy smashing five pads into his car. You will see him running up trails, running down trails, running from boulder problem to boulder problem. He’s probably climbed in your local crag, and you might have met him, but you probably forgot his name (if he stood still long enough to tell you it). It’s German. It’s hard to pronounce, unless you drink Jäegermeister. Climbing’s “Player” for September: Justin Jaeger.

One of the many unnamed Jim Belcer problems at RMNP…this one being on the Whispers boulder at Emerald Lake.Photo by Elliot Morris


How long have you been climbing?Since February 1999.

Where did you first start?During undergrad, I did a semester abroad at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. At first, my singular objective was to surf every free moment I had. I had just caught my first waves the prior spring and was psyched. I trolled the Auckland backpacker hostels for ads and bought the first board I saw, which turned out to be way too small even for me. Regardless, I studied the city bus schedules and started making commando missions out to area beaches looking for decent surf. When I finally found what I was looking for, I immediately realized I was not prepared in the least. I spent a couple sessions getting dragged around by the riptides, trying to avoid shredding myself on the sharp craggy formations that guarded the boundaries of the beach at Piha. I never even got out to the lineup after a few days of paddling around. The more mellow beaches were extremely fickle and were usually too flat to even paddle out. After about a week and a half of failed surfing schemes, my climber roommates invited me to go along on a cragging trip. Behind a grammar school in Auckland lies an old stone quarry that is open to the public. They, Mark Drucker and Seth Dee, put me on a toprope and let me clamber up some positive edges. I knew immediately that it was what I wanted to do from there on out and that any other sport was a waste of time and money. It took about two days to spend my entire ‘fun’ budget on gear… [in only the best and brightest fluorescent colors].

Dark Horse…a somewhat obscure Jade Whitney/Mike Hickey line involving powerful tension and crimping until a high crux heel/hand match to lock off huge to the top. Bit scary landing, but totally classic.Photo by Scott Neel


What discipline of climbing?My wool is dyed for bouldering. The guys who got me into climbing in New Zealand were completely preoccupied with alpine trad and trad cragging, so it took me a year or so to discover the real path for me… One of my most common gripes is that when in New Zealand, we got an offer to have a tour and FA session at a then newer area called Castle Hill, in the south island. When my friends heard it was “only” bouldering, they declined and did some mossy alpine route instead. I was out of the loop entirely, then and didn’t get to pull on any stone for our break. It wasn’t until I worked around Buffalo, New York after graduating that I was introduced to full-bore bouldering by the Buffalo and Toronto crews… I’m deeply indebted…

I guess somewhere in the rope management and endless belaying of trad climbing and the scene that typically gravitates to sport climbing, I lost the fun in those disciplines. For me, bouldering is relatively purified from a bit of the bullshit and hassle in climbing and distills the intensity and fun.

Due to rickety knees and weakness, Canopener has been my nemesis climb for four years. I’ve done every move a bazillion times… I’m psyched for the fall, though, as Ryan Olson just showed me some new beta to skip the tendon wrecking heel/toe lock I had previously been forced to use…it also reduces the reach, which is also wicked.Photo by Amy Ferguson


Where do you live now and what area do you go to the most?I live in Parker, Colorado — about a half-hour south and east of Denver. And what you’re trolling for me to say is that I climb at Castlewood Canyon, aka Crumblehood, the most.

Why?I live really close to Castlewood and I really enjoy climbing there after work and early in the morning on weekends when I can’t get out to other areas. The place gets a bad rap due to the adversarial wildlife, evil bushwhacking, and festering piles of choss. Still, I’ve found that if you climb for the love of movement, there are some absolutely amazing lines to be found in the canyon … the vast majority of the fools I talk into sessioning with me will gladly return.

Climbing chose you as a “player” in the world of climbing because of your scorecard; and, because of all the people I’ve met you are the most psyched climber I know — more so than Dave Graham (a person most often referred to as THE most motivated climber in the world). How many V7s have you done in the last three years?My spraysheet, eh? I haven’t done any thorough accounting, but I can say that the cumulative V7 count is over 300, currently, keeping in mind, however, that the uprating and downrating I do corrupts any formal count. My goal is to send over 1,000 problems V7 and up, which I’m happy to be just over the half-way mark on. Admittedly, very few are in the double digit range, which is somewhat embarrassing to me when I think of how many of my friends are just killing the hard stuff lately. My mentality is very much like that expressed by Boone Speed in “Best of the West” — my favorite days are those when I go out and do a handful of new 7s, 8s, and 9s. I would like to do every 7, 8, and 9 in Colorado, ( … and Vedauwoo, WY; Black Hills, SD; Niagara Glen, Ont; and Joe’s Valley, UT), but I also would like to really concentrate on some hard lines at some point … it’s just really difficult for me to have a day of complete failure on a “sick” project when so many lines are waiting, undone.

Bodacious — This is another Whitney/Hickey/Essen[?] problem, just left of Dark Horse, that almost shattered my ego for life.Photo Mike Hickey


I had first tried Fingerhut a few years ago and was smitten with it… Though it’s not tall or totally pure, the movement is perfect for a hard-ish problem: nothing insanely stopper or low-percentage, just consistent tension-rich, burly pulling. I finally sent it on a warm day this past April.Photo by Elliot Morris


And how does that compare to your hardest ascent? Because it’s one thing to climb V7 if you climb V16, but it’s a completely different ballgame when V7 and V8 are actually difficult for you.It’s really difficult for me to say … despite spending some time on 7s, I feel like I have to try hard on every climb I do, regardless of grade. Also, I still do not have a solid idea of what “V7” should feel like. What I do know is that all of my hardest sends felt like I was going to blow it at any moment, but I just kept locking off and pulling and straining through it all … hoping for some bit of luck.

For example — and for better or worse — one of the hardest lines I’ve ever done is a reverse-variation eliminate traverse link-up. Anyway, after much research my good friend Chip Phillips had determined that either Skip Guerin or no one had linked the reverse undercling traverse into the historical eliminate known as the Low Cloud Shadow traverse at Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder. I was taking my bar exam referesher at the law school in Boulder and decided that I would give the slimy, sharp, endless rig all sorts of hell before, during, and after my classes. So, I did. For 11 semi-consecutive days of racing laps up and down Flagstaff during lunch and after class, battling pump and grease in the 95-degree heat, only to return with bloody digits and a grin after figuring out some obscure bit of Beta to save power for the send. Finally, on the twelfth day, I was racing a thunderstorm and was able to stick the final move between drops of rain. It felt amazing.

Describe your typical day of climbing.I’m not really sure there’s a typical day. Before I had found some folks keen on sessioning with me after work, I would typically speed home at about 6 p.m., get to Castlewood with one of my dogs by 6:30, jog to my day’s project with three to four crashpads all lashed together, and go straight at it until dark or until it started raining too much to keep going. Now the sessions are a bit more mellow, but more fun because I get to play tour guide and Betaman while watching some friends crush.

Photo by Elliot Morris


When I was working at REI in Boulder before finishing law school, I used to have scabs and color-scars on my shoulders from always being late for work, needing to jog w/ a couple pads down from the flatirons and such. I remember all the dogs used to bark at me as I jogged out of the woods because of my huge pad and the insane slapping of my flip-flops. More than once I would try to dance around some folks while in full stride and totally eat it cause my flip-flops would skate on the loose gravel… the people would just shake their heads thinking I was a fool/berzerker — but it was Boulder, so I was still shooting par, I think.

As far as road trips, I’ve never been on one longer than four days, so I always feel like I need to keep the same schedule: wake up as early as we can and blitz the area till dark. Our last trip was in mid-August to Crested Butte, Colorado. It was my friend Chip’s bachelor session so he Marcelo, and Mike Hickey stayed up talking shop and drinking drinks for a while after we arrived on Friday night. I was all serious about getting some sleep for an early departure to the boulders, but all the tent-side chatter kept me up and I started to get really bitchy. Finally, the drunkards decided that I should be up. Period. So we all agreed to do the most logical compromise—start our session there and then. Even though it took us about two hours to drive four miles and walk two, we were still climbing before 5 a.m. by headlamp after not sleeping. I think we had done all the problems on the Hone Stone before dawn, save for the sit starts. Regardless, we were out climbing until about 7 p.m. that day. And my first trip to Joe’s valley: driving solo by 3 a.m. Saturday morning, climbing by 10 a.m. and driving back to Denver at 3am on Monday morning for work at 11am. And our first trip to Hueco: driving through the night in tight quarters, climbing by 8 a.m. and giving it hell for two and a half days before racing back.

I always thought the dynamic finish of Handicapps would make it impossible for me, but I found a way to do some weird matching and did it statically with the full-bore cheering of my friends. I was charged.Photo Andy Salo


Do you have some kind of personality disorder … what keeps you that motivated?Jealousy and diligence. I get really envious of my friends who go to new areas or crush old testpieces. It gets my head spinning and elevates my heart rate. I want to do absolutely every line that’s good, everywhere. Also, for whatever reason, I want to do every v7 in existence. It’s just something that developed over the years. Friends joke that the way to get me to an area is not to spray about the new sick lines, but rather the wealth of v7s. I have been motivated like this forever, though. When I was really young, fishing was my thing. I’d ride my bike for miles just to drop my line in any stagnant pool someone told me about. I’d stand out in the rain for hours, undaunted. I’d forego hanging out with all the cool kids at the community pool just to fish in the contaminated stream in the woods behind it.

Where did the nickname “sockhands” come from?Through law school I hardly ever climbed at a gym and I was getting out on the sinister sharpness of my beloved Colorado stone three to six days a week … For a few years I had flappers on most of my fingers most of the time. Finally, to help better heal them, I started using Polysporin like hand lotion at night, but I left greasy paw prints all over. My [now] wife insisted that I start wearing cotton gloves to bed, but I decided just to use old, clean socks instead.

Burning Spear is one of the many fun lines in the Socorro, NM area. The local crew is one of the most psyched I’ve had the honor of sessioning with.Photo by Craig Copelin


Though access has become tricky, Ute Pass has a good assortment of fun lines. Brian Johnson and I spotted this line and had to play on it as a traverse. The full top out is yet to come, as the downclimb is maybe as difficult as the upper half pictured.Photo Brian Johnson


Name every area you’ve been to in the last two months, and the number of days spent at each.Allenspark: 1 session

Castlewood Canyon: 12 sessions

Crested Butte: 2 fullfullfull days

Eldorado Canyon: 75 minutes

Elevenmile Canyon: 1/2 day due to rain/doughnuts

Evergreen: 2 hours

Flagstaff Mtn.: 2 hours

Flatirons: 1 full day

G-pass: 30 minutes

Mount Evans A&B: 4 days, one of them commando (i.e., 2 hours hiking, 30 minutes climbing)

Redcliff: 2 hours

RMNP: 4 and 1/3 days

Swissco: 1 day (spent drying holds with napkins and shirt)

Vedauwoo: 1/2 day

Gym: 8 sessions

So then you must be a dirtbag climber, right?I’m a trust and estate attorney for a very small firm, so I do make a respectable living, though I need to keep a close watch on spending since my wife and I are living on my salary until she can sell some horses [she buys, trains, and sells Quarter Horses]. Once I pay my loans and bills each month, I come away with about the same as your average, non-trustafarian, college student. Regardless, I am fortunate to live in my own home and drive a car that runs.

Skipper D — a somewhat committing and completely classic Upper Chaos line.Photo Ryan Olson


Emerging from the hand/heel match, ball-of-doom on Super Gui — perhaps my hardest. My friend, Marcelo, spotted me for four or five hours on this sending day.Photo Marcelo Montalva


How many pads do you own?Six, but one’s in New York at my dad’s house, and when I’ve got use of our truck, I typically only bring four of them out, much to the dismay of our pad-loving crew.

How many have you owned in your entire career?The same. I’ll only stash them at homes, not boulders, so they tend to have long life spans, even when the old brands have been crippled by ripped straps and crushed foam.

The big question: how many V7s and V8s have you done?Over 500.

Five hundred? Whoa…since February of 1999? That’s intense! What would you do without climbing in your life?I’d become a danger to myself and others with strange schemes … or I’d get back into free-skiing and biking, fly fishing, and all that other stuff I used to be emotional about.

Anyone you’d like to thank?Without spraying out dozens of names, I’d like to thank the Buffalo/Rochester crew for getting me psyched on bouldering and always being psyched to meet me when I’m in town. I’d like to thank all my friends in the West for putting up with my whining and being really supportive despite my selfish/fascist session plans. I appreciate all the time and good spots you’ve given me; and Amy, for putting up with my constant climbing jabber. I’m not really a sponsored kid, but I would like to thank the Helkes at Organic for helping me out and giving me wicked Vedauwoo FA tours, to Colin at Sportiva and MB at for their past support from time to time, and more recently, to Chris at Scarpa for the same.

Thanks, JJ.My pleasure!

Virgin Martini in the Black Hills, SD. It was so fiercely cold and windy this day… it never rose above 20 degrees all day, from 10am till after dark. Notice the rock on the pads…moments before, a nasty blast picked up the pads, carried them about 20 feet, and bashed Chip’s camera into his face hard enough to almost knock him down.Photo Chip Philips