Steve Vymola – Age 43 – Lives in Minneapolis – Profession/Passion: Master Electician/Yoga Teacher – Favorite Climb: “This a very difficult question to answer, I have so many… I feel it would be easier to list my least favorite climb. It was at Maiden Rock, whatever that sport route we did was called… at Josh Helke’s recommendation. I remember the nightmare-like approach through the thick poison ivy covered hillside that was super unstable, to the base of a chossy pile of limestone with rusty bolts. I remember the route being awkward and ending at a place that just posed more questions. Where does this route end and are those the bolts you expect me to clip? We were so underwhelmed that a return trip wasn’t really considered! Now, if you absolutely need a favorite, I would have to say, Natural Selection. This is a climb that I could keep coming back to again and again for the rest of my life. It is located at my favorite after work crag in the world, Willow River State Park. A place where you can do more than climb, a place to swim and cool off in the hot summer months by diving deep into the river’s whirlpools or spelunk into tight spaces with frigid water and rainbow trout. This place, as you know, is magical. Where friendships are made and grown and “antics” run rampant.” – Most Recent Epic: “It was the summer of 2008 at Willow River. The day was hot, sun shining brightly and the river was at its comfortable summer flow. I was climbing with Jeff Engel, a legend in the Minnesota climbing scene and a very accomplished climber. Jeff has lots of experience in all types of climbing from bouldering to multi-pitch free climbing. He has put up many routes on his own and is skilled with handling ropes. So I felt very comfortable climbing with Jeff and discussing the possibility of setting up a rope on the climb nearest to the falls with the intention of using it to swing into the cascading water. Something I had been fantasizing about for some time during the hottest days of summer. The falls at this point are about 18 feet tall so allow plenty of vertical space to swing in and out of. The depth behind the falls was roughly ten feet. I had been under them many times to cool off and knew the area well. This turned out to be a moot point.
The plan was to set up the rope on the nearest climb, have me tie into the sharp end and Jeff belay on the other. I would then walk away from the falls until I found the correct angle of attack. Once I found it, I would climb up the nearest route to a height we thought would let me swing freely over the rocks below and cleanly into the cool, cascading water. I proceeded carefully wearing only a pair of shorts and my harness. I had one quick draw that I clipped into a bolt to allow a rest and opportunity to take all of the slack out the rope. This was a very important part of the process due to the fact that our rope was dynamic. We knew we had to take up as much as possible to prevent me from hitting the deck. This involved Jeff jumping up and down repeatedly with me jumping up in unison to stretch the rope as much as possible. When we thought we had it as tight as we could get it, I gave him the ready signal and unclipped the quick draw, pulled myself up a little bit higher, looked at my path, and took note of large rock directly in my path. I released my hold on the rock and jumped to the right of this ominous boulder just enough to miss it. I knew immediately, that something was wrong, I was falling too fast towards the ground and not swinging out fast enough. I braced for impact, lifted my feet and held the rope tight so I could get as flat as possible. I bounced off the rocks and skidded unhappily into water beneath the falls. Luckily, I jumped around the boulder or It could have been much, much worse. Once I came to a rest, I did a full body scan and pat down. I discovered a minor laceration on my right foot, numerous scrapes on my leg and a very bruised buttocks. Nothing appeared to be broken. Then, I slowly stood up and looked at Jeff, the look in his eyes said it all. Oh My God! Are you OK? and did this really just happen?! I held up my arms and smiled, I am O.K., then slowly limped out of the water towards Jeff. As I walked, I looked around and noticed several other climbers staring in bewilderment at what had just taken place. I was embarrassed but equally as grateful for having survived the epic swing into the ground. Lessons learned; know your geometry, use a static rope on pendulum swings and test your theory before using yourself as a guinea pig.” – Why I Love Climbing: “Climbing brings me into the present moment, all distractions leave my mind and I feel closer to my true self, and my true human nature when climbing. Climbing challenges me and lets me feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, whether or not I topped out or reached my limit. I also love the friendships and bonds that I form with others during this process. It is a very intimate thing to trust someone with the other end of the rope. Or spotting a boulder problem. They have my life in their hands and in turn I hold theirs in mine. So, it is a great sharing of trust which allows friendships to grow if the trust becomes mutual.”
The excitement of traveling to remote and beautiful places keeps me coming back again and again. The idea of touching a piece of nature that no one or very few have experienced is a very special feeling. I love the adventure that surrounds the mission of getting to the rock. This mission has taken me to many parts of the US and world that I may not have chosen to go.
Climbing has helped me grow as a person and has kept me motivated to experience life to its fullest.