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Drew Ruana: “There’s No Reason to Climb If It Makes You Sad”

The former comp climber went outside and had his eyes opened on real rock. Now he's on a mission to climb every hard boulder in Colorado.

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Drew Ruana just finished his freshman year at Colorado School of Mines, but he’s not spending his days off arguing about Rick and Morty plot holes. He’s working to send every boulder problem V14 and harder in Colorado. So far he’s ticked 30 of them, and is well on his way to achieving his goal and becoming the first person to do so. Climbing chatted with Ruana about how he keeps the stoke high despite comp-climbing burnout, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the paradigm shift of bouldering.

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From your Instagram, it looks like you’ve been crushing a lot of hard climbs lately. What’s the latest?

The past couple of months haven’t been going as well. I’ve run through a lot of the climbs that are closer and more my style. Now, I’m doing the ones that are especially hard for me, but that’s part of the process. It’s not always going to be good. I tell people that, but sometimes it’s hard to realize it for yourself.

I have this list of all the V14+ boulders in Colorado, and the main goal is to work through those. So that’s a two-year, maybe three-year, goal.

How many are there? How many have you climbed?

There are probably 75 or so. This year I did about 20. Last year I did 10, maybe more.

Compared with other styles of climbing, what draws you to bouldering?

I can do it by myself, which is pretty easy. I don’t have to rely on other people. There’s also a higher density of hard boulders in Colorado than sport climbs.

Eventually, I will get back into sport climbing. It’s a lot different when there’s one 5.15 in Colorado, and I’m pretty sure it’s a summer climb. That’s different than the obscene amounts of V14, V15, V16, V17 projects that are still here — not to mention established climbs.

You’ve managed to FA some really hard problems and do quite a few more with only a handful of tries. How do you manage that? Do you immediately go all-in?

 I’ve started trying to work climbs at like 70%. It makes sense to try and find the easiest way to do a climb. But as soon as I try from the start, it’s go time until I bleed. I give it everything and hope that it works out.

The pandemic has been awful, obviously, but has it made it easier to focus on your climbing goals?

COVID fucked a lot of things up, but in terms of climbing outside, it almost made it easier. There were already not many people at the boulders I try, and now there are even fewer. I didn’t feel I was being unsafe by going outside because there’s absolutely no one around.

But at the same time, the isolation aspect of it makes it really hard to focus. It’s like, “Oh man, I’m going to be stuck in my house all day. How do I stay focused and get after it tomorrow?”

What’s your biggest weakness?

It’s my mental for sure. I tend to implode if things don’t go my way and I feel like I had the capability to change it.

[If] I’m having a good day and it starts turning south and I make dumb mistakes, then it’s really hard for me to keep it together and continue trying hard. That was my issue in comps, too. It’s really hard for me to get my mental to 100% after it goes south.

Do you have any techniques to fight that?

I force myself to keep getting after it. Any day in the mountains is going to be a good day, no matter how the climbing goes. It sounds so privileged to say, but sometimes it’s like, “Man, this sesh is going terribly. I don’t even want to be here right now.” I tell myself, “Well, it’s a beautiful day out in a beautiful area with amazing friends, and I gotta be thankful for that.”

Does anything rival your passion for climbing?

As of now, no. I don’t really have time to do anything else besides school and climbing. Also, it’s kind of the way my brain works. I’ve discovered that I have some OCD tendencies that manifest themselves in perfectionism. I’m already competent when it comes to climbing, so it’s easier for me to continue grinding at what I know. If I start a new skill, my brain is like, “Drop everything. Do this. You have to be the best at it. You have to grind your ass off at this.” It’s hard for me to enjoy things unless I’m giving them my all. So, I stick to climbing.

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As the Olympics and comp climbing get a bigger spotlight, do you have any thoughts on returning to the indoor scene?

Honestly, not really. I had my run with comps, and it’s not for me. I definitely had some success, but it wasn’t what I’d trained for and what I’d hoped for. Then the second I started going outside, it was a total paradigm shift. I was like, “OK, this is what makes me actually happy. This is what gets me going. This is what gets me psyched to wake up in the morning to go climb again.”

There’s been a lot of cultural upheaval, both in our world and in the climbing community, over the past year. What would you like to see change about climbing culture?

Every time I climb, I’m doing it for myself. I’m doing it because I love it. That’s true for pretty much everyone who climbs, I think. There’s no reason to climb if it makes you sad.

At the end of the day, climbing should be something where everybody [has] equal access. Everybody should be allowed. I’ve been doing a bit of work to try and help promote more access through local groups in Colorado, gear donations, stuff like that.

Climbing is such a personal sport; there’s no use trying to be elitist in it. I frequently go outside with people who climb V4 or V5. It’s just fun. We’re all doing the same thing together. I happen to be at a higher grade, but who gives a fuck?

The general trend lately has been “us versus them,” and I think it should trend more to, “Hey, let’s make this as great as we can for everybody.” Everybody deserves to love the sport the same way.

UPDATE After this interview took place, Ruana FA’d a proposed V16 (8C+), Insomniac, at Mt Evans. “I’ve slowly been working up to this climb, feels good to stand on top of my hardest yet,” Ruana wrote on Instagram. He gave the lowdown on the problem in a later post, writing, “The big line of the cave starts on the Wheel of Wolvo/Delirium start, going through a 8 move v14 sequence to a nice rest jug. After taking a breather on the jug, Insomniac shoots through We Can Build You, a nice power endurance v14 with a hard lip encounter and finish moves. The first section is the most physically demanding part, sapping a lot of power before the end. The second half is a power endurance nightmare, making for a 30 move frenzy of hard moves with a heartbreaker at the end. I think I put around 10 days of effort with probably 20 falls near the end from various starts.”