Professional Climber Speaks at SLU


"Get out there and experience life" - Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson is a professional climber, guide, and photographer, and visited St. Lawrence on Wednesday, February 2, to give a multimedia presentation titled “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger” about his 30 years of experience climbing peaks throughout the world. Anderson invited the audience with him to the tops of the three peaks he climbed and photographed. In addition to good-naturedly discussing the skills he has learned from climbing, such as patience and ingenuity, Anderson emphasized the wider implications of contact with an array of people around the world, and the lessons that he has learned from them.
The Outing Program (OP) sponsored the presentation. Phil Royce, the OP director said, “I thought it was great. It’s fun to bring in people with different perspectives and from different areas.” He then evaluated the talk as being “informational, educational, and sort of inspiring at the same time.”
Anderson describes the cultural experiences that accompany his trips as equally compared to the climbs. He recalled sampling foods such as yak butter tea and goat head in Mongolia and hearing folksongs in China and Tibet. “It’s the people who really touch your soul when you travel,” he explained. Returning to the climbing, he said that the worst suffering that he has endured “wasn’t physical but more mental.” He is certified in first aid, and has helped native people in the region and fellow climber, and has ever experienced a traumatic accident of his own.
Anderson presented what he called “mini-snapshots” of three trips that he has taken and showed photographs and film clips of his experiences. The first, in July 2000, explored an area of Pakistan that had never before been visited by Westerners. In addition to rock climbing a challenging peak, the group interacted with individuals from a local military base. In return for teaching climbing to military personnel, the base hosted a party and gave Anderson and his friends the unique opportunity to fire AK-47 rifles. Images of Anderson and his fellow climbers in tents pitched on the side of the mountain truly gave the audience a taste of the experience.
The second trip he discussed was to Western China. After a harrowing climb to the top of the mountain, Anderson fell 20 feet and was saved from a disastrous landing by the 4 feet of fresh powder snow he fell into. He said that he was lucky to have walked away without injury. After descending the mountain, he and his companions helped the locals with the construction of a hostel because it was, “nice to be able to give something back.” Though he had planned to climb a second mountain in the area, cold weather and delays caused the expedition to be called off. In response to this unfinished climb, Anderson hopes “to go back [there] in the fall.”
The presentation continued with a climb in Patagonia, a region spanning both Chile and Argentina, in March 2009. He cited the unpredictability of the weather in the area as a challenge, and said due to tourist development, “To me, this area doesn’t feel wild.” Anderson said that he and his friends had to stretch their ingenuity in making their way through the wilderness, using rocks as ice axes and even making wooden oars to accompany their inflatable rafts, and that the climb of 3,000 feet “used all the skills I’d learned over the last 30 years.”
Anderson left the audience with advice to “Get out there and experience life.” Royce whole-heartedly endorsed this sentiment given that at St. Lawrence, “We are centered in the middle of an adventure hotspot.” Royce cites the proximity of the Adirondack Mountains and the accessibility of rivers, hiking trails and mountains in the surrounding area as resources of which students should take advantage. He explained, “We have a very strong outdoor climbing and mountaineering program here.” More than 800 students climb at the Munro Family Climbing Wall in Newell each year, and according to Royce there are about 400 students involved in outdoor trips annually between skiing, paddling and climbing. Royce is “planning a ski-mountaineering trip during spring break in LaGrave, France, and we have a climbing trip to Kentucky during spring break.” There will probably be a white-water paddling trip offered as well. Participation in these trips is open to the student body, and the Outdoor Program advertises clinics on SLUWire weekly.
According to Anderson, the presentation went well and was one of his better-attended presentations, adding, “it’s nice to see how many people came out on such a snowy night.” He also mentioned that he doesn’t often get a chance to look at pictures of his trips and “it’s pretty neat for me to revisit and re-experience the trips by seeing the images.” This is his third time speaking at St. Lawrence after he originally became involved in the outdoor program here through Sarah Heuniken,a coworker at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Anderson started giving these presentations after talking about his first trip to Pakistan, and has spent the last ten years traveling and speaking about his outdoor experiences with a humor that sets him apart from the more serious and traditional orators about outdoor recreation. “I think my favorite part is just hearing people laugh at the stupid things that happen to me.”
“I’d be psyched to come back,” When asked if he might return to SLU next year, Anderson replied. Beyond continuing to give presentations, his future plans include returning to the peak in China that he failed to scale as well as takring a trip to Elephant’s Perch in Idaho. He is currently involved in producing a documentary on the social and environmental issues found in the seven lowest attitudes in the world, which receive far less media coverage than the seven highest altitudes.

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