World Cup Winner, Professional Climber, Route-Setter, Coach; Albuquerque, New Mexico
If you’ve seen Timy Fairfield, 40, climb, you know he has the preternatural fluidity that signals an evolved grimpeur. Fairfield, in the late 1990s, became one of the early Americans to immerse himself in World Cup culture, entering 100 international events. During his five years on the Continent, he trained fiendishly on François Lombard’s garage wall; took first in a Bouldering World Cup at Clamency in 1997; won a difficulty event in Normandy that same year; and placed third two years later at Arco’s Bouldering World Cup. Fairfield’s also established 5.14c (Pimpin’ Aint Easy, Socorro, New Mexico), grabbed an early (1995) redpoint of the Volx testpiece Le Plafond (5.14b), and was the world’s first to flash V11 (Future Eaters, Switzerland; 1997). Fairfield was also the first American to flash V10, with Left Martini, at Hueco Tanks. Over the years, Fairfield has taken his knocks for “futurist” tactics like glueing and hold sculpting, perhaps because he speaks openly about tactics not uncommon in sport climbing. Today, he lives in his native Albuquerque, where you might see him taking one of his cats on a neighborhood stroll.
When’s the last time someone brought your attention to your being an intensely passionate person?During my workout about 30 minutes ago on my wall, right before you called me
And what went on then?I was doing a series of boulder problems, pyramids schemes, and started getting more and more upset at my performance, [but] was able to turn it around because I got more focussed on what I was doing.
So you were having a bad performance?I wasn’t having a bad performance; I just wasn’t having a perfect performance. I decided to get a little bit angry, but it was great, ‘cause I was alone and didn’t turn it on anyone else.
How did you channel that energy into your training?I just tried to focus on body tension, breathing, not being afraid of the problem. That’s what changed about me: I don’t throw too many fits. If I throw a fit, I’ll just scream and it’ll be out of me and gone, in the past. And I don’t stay as angry. I look for solutions in myself.
You don’t stay in fit mode?Yeah, because I started to get upset with climbing I had to figure out how I operate internally in order to maintain my healthy passion. Passion can turn both ways. I had to be more positive about those things. I mean, I have done those things when I was outwardly more negative. I was still working with that, but just not needing to express the negativity as much.
And now you have to live up to it?I think people are surprised when they meet me at how calm and collected I can be. It’s the result of aging and maturity. I can only stay angry so long now. And then I move on and use it and get it where it needs to be so it’s not consuming. I think people who really care about Nothing I’ve been uninvested in ends up going anywhere for me. Whether it’s a relationship or a business project, it just doesn’t happen. For me. Some people are more analytical and just follow the procedure — maybe they don’t feel something about it, but I’ve always looked up to people that display a lot of passion about what they do.
When I see artists like Cristo — his installation art — the process is very frustrating for him, and you can see that it has to be a certain way. It calls you to go inside the reasons why someone is doing something and look at why you might be motivated to do something or why you should be demanding more of yourself and what you do.
Do you like Stanley Kubrick? Yeah.
I was just watching TheShining last night and looking up some facts on it. You know the scene where Scatman Crothers gets the axe in the stomach, the only murder in the movie? Kubrick wanted to film it 70 times and they stopped at 40. The actor was getting worn out, which I thought was pretty amazing. Along those lines, can you think of something where you brought the excellence through repetition, either a route or something in your training, to something in your approach? It’s sort of a dreadful process, repetitive and tedious.I think the time I spent in Europe training was like that because it felt like war. Something Jim Karn talks a lot about — you don’t have as much support, there weren’t as many Americans to lean on to speak the language. I felt like I had to change everything about how I was climbing, training, and thinking. There was a period where I was climbing really well, but not performing well in comps, so I had to start dissecting my mental game.
How did you do that?I actually worked with a coach and by training with people that didn’t have the traits that I didn’t have — people [who were] calmer under fire, even if they weren’t athletically strong as me. These [people] had other characteristics, like François Lombard, really relaxed people with different personalities. So surrounding yourself with people that have the traits you lack.
How long were you in Europe?About five years. I was residing in France and traveling to comps in other countries.
What were your best years of comp performance?Well, nationally, I got to where I was ranked No. 1 in the United States by ’95, and I moved to Europe and that didn’t mean anything. That’s when your passion has to come through, because you realize that as good as you are, it isn’t good enough. You have to dig inside and go, ‘What else is there — what else can I give of myself?’
So the first couple of years in Europe were hard, going over there and placing 60th or 70th in the World Cup. I came back and started performing more consistently in the US, and then went back to Europe ranked No. 1 and still placed 35th at the world championship. That told me I had to get over there and start working on things and surrounding myself with people I didn’t have access to here. After a couple of years, I started to win international bouldering comps, like Clemency in ’97, and I won a speed-climbing world cup in ‘95 in Birmingham, as well as an international open in France in ‘97. Then in ‘99 I got third in bouldering in Arco, which is the highest place for an American male at Arco. I guess you could look at those results and say those were my best years of competition.
I think as far as athletic performance and ability, I could have performed well for a few more years, but it was a funding issue, because being in Europe got more and more expensive and the sport didn’t really return. I came home and bought a house in 2000 and my priorities had to shift. Now I can earn more from a company without going to a World Cup.
There’s obviously a physical peak that also goes alongwith the technical peak, and you want to combine those when you’re competing. Do you think that’s a lot of what was going on when you were in Europe?I think it was a lot of proximity. I know my friends from other countries still perform really well into their 30s, and physically I feel really good now. I have to stay more on top of my training to feel good, but I know more about training than I did 10 years ago. I wish I would have known then what I know now. Honestly, I feel like I climb better now, but I had more access to the competitions and the dollar was stronger then. It didn’t really align as when I was training the best, had the funding, and had the technical ability and the experience all together to get the best results possible. If you live in Europe, you get to that pinnacle, and then you experience more consistent results than I had. I think that’s the problem with most Americans: they don’t have funding to stay there and to train and compete for long enough to reap the consistent benefits. Robin Erbesfield is one of the only ones who have.
Why do you think the energy in Europe is so different? It’s part of their culture. The sport is supported by federations with public funding. So the athlete’s development and visibility in competitions is emphasized. They’re trying to provide more structure to the sport, to achieve Olympic status, or possible mainstreamize it in some type of rigid format that every sport needs. Whereas here, the freerider phenomenon is taking place. There’s tons of guys who don’t compete, and then build a whole career out of it. What happens is that it dilutes the available funding for the true athletes. Sort of like a pro cyclist. If you were racing and going to Europe, you’d be getting more complete sponsorships and support from companies that were in your industry. You wouldn’t be worried about money going to the guy who sits on a corner bouncing tricks on a bike, because there’s enough of a developed industry around racing.
What are you doing these days to make a living, Timy?Training camps for juniors, special events. Some of the special events that I do might be for a sponsor that I’m involved with. Last year I did a La Sportiva team tour, where we toured the Southeast. I also do some consulting. There are lots of new gyms coming out. I found a couple of PR jobs for a proposed state park in Arizona, and then there’s some other gyms that have had me do some things like grand openings. There are a lot of new gyms being built now that are engaging me to have more input in how they promote their facilities before the facility opens, and how we create a bill of events to properly launch the business and get people interested in coming to the gym. Demos and PR, that’s where the money is.
What have you learned about yourself through climbing?I’ve learned that I need to work on being more patient. And I’ve learned that things are different that my perceptions. When I go back to something, it might seem like it changed, but it didn’t change; I changed. It’s just a rock — it’s indifferent to me. I’ve learned that you have to believe that you can do something before you can. I’ve learned that there’s something to be learned from everybody out there. I’ve climbed in a lot of different crags and a lot of different places with people from whom I’ve learned.
How did you get into climbing? My uncle Raymond Holland. When I was 5 years old, he took me for a walk in the foothills. He literally pulled me up a 20-foot waterfall with a piece of webbing. I always retain all these memories of wanting to interact with the mountains and climb. And it’s still like that now, even though I don’t mountaineer or engage in alpine climbing: if I want a mountain interaction, I don’t necessarily climb, I’ll go for a mountain run. I still like to be at elevation and I still like to breathe the clean air and be in that environment
How old were you when you did your first roped pitch?About 12. My uncle and I did a 5.6 crack, with hexes and stuff
It sounds like the mountains of New Mexico are really in your blood too.Exactly. I’ve done some 14ers in Colorado, the Crestone Needle and the Crestone Peak, and those are important things to me, even If I’m not doing them for a record or athletic performance. I don’t view it the way I view my rock climbing now, but I’m very aware that my relationship with the outdoors is what motivated me to become a rock climber. When I’m too old to physically rock climb, that’s what I’ll do. Ill still do 14ers, I’ll still go hiking, I’ll still do mountain runs. It’s a pyramid: in the beginning I hiked and trad climbed. Then you go into rock climbing, then performance rock climbing, then more easy rock climbing when I’m really old. When I’m older than that, I’ll still be running. And when I can no longer run, I’ll go hiking, just all the way until I die…on a continuum.
Do you have a dog?No, I have three cats. One of my cats walks with me around the neighborhood. Walking’s human. Everybody in Europe walks, and we’re always thinking that’s why they live long and why they don’t get fat. I think it’s more than that: I think walking calms you down. It’s human. It’s something you can always do, even when you get old.
I’ve noticed when it’s winter and I talk Clyde for a walk out in the midday sun, I have a lot better of a day. It’s a simple ritual.Or just go for an easy run. It’s like, ‘OK, now I’m enjoying this, instead of suffering.’ I think what changes today, in regard to climbing, instead of climbing to promote your athleticism, climbing fits into the rest of your life, and if the climbing is doing something to destroy you, whether physically or mentally, psychologically, you shouldn’t be doing it. So you should be finding a way to climb that renders you more content and healthy. During my earlier years, like a lot of younger climbers, I sacrificed my overall health for climbing performance. That’s what changed for me; that’s what keeping me wanting to train and climb now.
Was facing an eating disorder part of this? I know you wrote pretty openly about dealing with bulimia.Yeah, that was when I was 19, and also during the sport-climbing era, when things were lower angle and you didn’t need as much muscle so you couldn’t eat as much. But I see kids going through it now, too.
What do you say to the anti-Timy naysayers?I do not engage the drama of naysayers. It’s pointless for a ‘Mac’ to try to communicate with those who are so ‘PC.’
And what would you tell your detractors if they were to say, ‘Hey, you chipped that damn hold?!’The first thing I would say is, if you’re against abortion don’t have one. It still isn’t illegal to chip. Don’t impose your philosophy on me. The rock is indifferent: it doesn’t care if it has a hole from piton a bolt carving roadcuts, or a chipped pocket. I feel as if climbers get too caught up in the ethics of the route and the rock insofar as the climb and don’t think about the bigger picture.
Our environmental problems are massive and they have nothing to do with chipping. I still value a route that’s natural over one that isn’t. But if you’re from a place like New Mexico, where there’s lots of crappy rock, chipping and gluing is something that while I’m willing to do on certain types of rock. I would never do it on higher-quality rock or at other areas where I’m not setting the ethic.
People get angry at me — my detractors — but I would never go to a [new climbing area] and chip, even though there are great angles there that you would need to chip. I wouldn’t do that, because that’s not the ethic. Not to justify what I’ve done, but there is a distinction. I don’t go to Hueco Tanks and drill a pocket. I think the detractors may not understand that I don’t always chip when I would like to chip and I don’t necessarily think a chipped line is superior to a non-chipped line. I happen to enjoy that style of climbing, but there are beautiful lines that are natural. There’s a lot of hypocrisy in the sport, because there are a lot of famous routes that have been altered.
EnlargeTimy at the Grenoble, France World Cup. Photo courtesy TF Collection