Don McGrath: Welcome to the first episode of the Climbing Lifer Podcast. I’m Don McGrath, I’m your host. I created the Climbing Lifer Podcast for climbers who want to figure out how to stay at it for a long time. For most of us, I’m 56 now and, it’s less about the super hard sand than it is about really making it an integral part of my life and figure out how I can do it as long as I possibly can because I’m very passionate about it.
Don McGrath: So every week, I will be interviewing someone who has successfully navigated being a climbing lifer, and so I hope you get some tips and some secrets out of here from my guests. I am just so excited for this first episode to have Ajax Greene on the show. Ajax and I reconnected. I think we actually met quite a number of years ago up in the Adirondacks at Pokomoonshine or Spider’s Web or something that with a friend of ours, Rui.
Don McGrath: But we reconnected because I was climbing in the Gunks for about a month, and climb with my friend, Rui, who lives here in Boulder. Ajax and Rui are great friends, so I had the opportunity to climb with Ajax. But it really wasn’t until after we spent that day together that Rui was telling me what Ajax had done in his past, and I was just totally blown away. When I was looking at guests that are climbers lifers, that have climbed …
Don McGrath: For Ajax, in his case, have been climbing more than 50 years. What better example of someone to share what it’s been to start early, go through and have climbed with just a huge cast of characters that were influential along with Ajax himself in the American climbing scene, even the world climbing scene, and so I’m just so, so excited to have you on this first podcast, Ajax. Ajax Greene, welcome to the podcast.
Ajax Greene: Well, it’s great to be here, Don. I know we had fun that day we were out. So we’re off to a good start.
Don McGrath: I mean, I can’t get any better in the fall in the Gunks climbing classics Ken’s Crack and [inaudible 00:02:11]. It just can’t get any better than that. We had a blast. I’m so happy to have you on the show and I’m honored. I would love you to share how you get started. I mean, I always find people’s stories about how they got started in climbing fascinating.
Ajax Greene: Well, how I got started actually starts before me. It starts with my dad who had been a hiker and skier during the 1930s, in 1939 when Tony [Mash 00:02:47] shushed the Headwall on … and Tuckerman’s in the Inferno race, that is really a famous thing. My dad was one of the gatekeepers that day. Then he went on to be in the 10th mountain division, which game … a lot of notoriety during the second world war.
Ajax Greene: That’s really where the entire American ski industry came out, the 10th. Now, my dad was not one of the famous folks, but yet he was very much part of that, and I grew up with all the tall tales of what went on with the 10th. So I started hiking with my dad when I was five. I started skiing when I was six. When I was nine, I was the youngest person at that time to have done all the 4,000 foot mountains in New Hampshire. At 10, I was the youngest at that time to do all the 4,000 foot mountains in New England.
Ajax Greene: The following year, it was like, “Well, what’s the next challenge?” I was pretty goal oriented, and I think my father in hindsight was very strategic and he knew I was … he could see I was on a trajectory and it was all coming from me. This was not someone … I mean, he was excited by it, but yet not pushing any of this on me. But he had given me a copy that winter from 10 to 11 of the biography of John Harlan called Straight Up, and I just got completely addicted to climbing literature of that time, a lot, very focused on the Uyghur, which still holds a special place in my mind from all of that early readings.
Ajax Greene: I say I started climbing at age 11, although I’d actually … That’s when I started rock climbing. I’d actually had a rope on two years before that at nine and 10, but on snow, on Mount Washington. So I started with the Appalachian Mountain Club. They had a beginners program in the Boston area, and my dad who was 59 when I started, started with me, and then he learned just enough about Blaine and climbing and so forth, so that I wouldn’t kill myself, but he bowed out. All the way, to the end of his life, we went away pretty much every weekend together and climb.
Don McGrath: That’s very, very fascinating. There’s a couple things in there that really fascinate me. First of all, your father was a climbing lifer, right?
Ajax Greene: Yeah.
Don McGrath: Maybe a different way, his love of the mountains, whether it be in skiing, and that, for lack of a better term, infected you with that.
Ajax Greene: Absolutely.
Don McGrath: Another thing as you were talking that reminded me of something that’s fascinating, you said your dad was not one of the stars but was influential. I think you would probably consider yourself that same way maybe in the climbing realm. I remember listening to a podcast of you on Climb Talk and that’s very much what you say. You said you fly under the radar. A lot of people may not have heard of Ajax Greene, but you were very influential in climbing. So I find that fascinating, relationship with you and your father.
Ajax Greene: Yeah, that is interesting, and I’m actually thrilled you brought that up. I’ve never thought about it in that way, and I’ve thought a lot about my dad because we were extraordinarily close. That’s a really interesting new thing you’ve brought up. But in terms of my own climbing, yeah, I would always have described myself as a B-team climber. My best friends were all the A-team, but there was just something about them.
Ajax Greene: There were days I could climb as hard as any of them, but they put together more comprehensive climbing careers than I did. Some of that maybe we’ll get into it, is my interest in having a more diverse life then just climbing led me adrift maybe earlier than some of them, and they went on and kept having ongoing climbing successes.
Don McGrath: Yeah. For those who aren’t familiar with what you’ve done, you hung with a quite impressive cast of characters, including Henry Barber, Earl Wiggins, David Breashears, Pat Ament. Jim Erickson, right? See, these were some people who were definitely A, and you were in their circle. You had some amazing adventures with them, and through their influence I’d imagine you ended up going on to devote your early life to rock climbing, right?
Ajax Greene: Yeah. Basically, I hated being in school and when I was in high school, I really just wanted to climb. I grew up in the Boston area. I took my first trip out West to Boulder 1972 when I was 15, and I mean it just blew my mind, After that, I wanted to have nothing to do with school. We used to climb before school, after school, that’s if I went to school, because the two years I was in high school, I mean I just skipped dozens and dozens of days to go climbing.
Ajax Greene: I figured out that just randomly, I was able work it out that I could graduate a year early. So I had just turned 17 a few weeks before I graduated, and I left almost immediately with Henry and Rick Hatch, and actually Henry’s girlfriend at the time, to head out West, and then I spent the next about eight years on the road climbing full time.
Don McGrath: Yeah. That’s amazing to have that opportunity, and I think you’ve had some incredible adventures. I’m sure you were influenced heavily by that circle of climbers in that area. Is there one particular story that you have there that would really highlight that time of your life?
Ajax Greene: Wow, that’s a tough one because I mean, there are just dozens of stories and people. The one thing I know we had talked about climbing mentors, and even though Henry was only four years older than I was, am, neither of us remember meeting. We’d actually met hiking before either of us were climbers, and we only know that because our parents remember meeting each other kind of thing. I would say Henry, during that decade of the ’70s, was one of my best friends.
Ajax Greene: We were pretty close, and I would say he was very much one of my climbing mentors. I think on some level our styles were somewhat similar. We weren’t project people. It’s like go in and flash it or do it in a couple of tries or just move. His heady style of climbing, scary stuff, free soloing, that all certainly leaked into my life. I recently had someone friend me on Facebook, that I haven’t seen from Yosemite since the ’70s, and their opening comment after I friended them was, “We’re so glad to see you alive.”
Don McGrath: Yeah. You had shared on a previous interview that I was just watching yesterday, that some of that became spiritual to you, that you found some … It sent you a bit on a spiritual journey in your life, and so I’d love to hear a little bit more about that.
Ajax Greene: Absolutely. I’ve always viewed climbing, even though I will say in my teens and 20s, I might not have had the maturity to express it this way. But I think, for me, climbing has always been more about being a human being than trying to be the highest number I could click, and that it was the expression of climbing and it was that attempt to perform to climb hard, that the goal wasn’t just to click that number, it was, who do I need to become as a human being to do that?
Ajax Greene: Until this day, I mean, I can be terribly uninterested in people who it’s all about their ego and all about how cool they think they are, and I’m much more like, “Talk to me about who you are as a human being, what are you doing to save humanity, save the world, and be part of that.” That’s far more interesting to me. I think that, in climbing hard, can be very intricately linked in a really interesting way.
Don McGrath: Yeah. That’s really interesting. I absolutely love that, and I think that’s how we’ve probably managed to stay climbing for so long because if it is about the numbers, you get really frustrated and quit. I was a runner, and I found myself as I hit 30 years old training just as hard, if not harder and running slower.
Don McGrath: That’s not really a sustainable model, right? But you climbed full time and you experienced these incredible things with some great, great mentors. Then you told me that you got burned out a little bit, and so you decided to step back a little bit. I’d love to hear more about what was going and what happened.
Ajax Greene: Well, two things happen. First, I was having some minor injuries, but I realized that just climbing 250 or 300 days a year, even in your 20s, was hard on your body. So I took two winters off to go ski racing, and I was still climbing the rest of the year hard. But that was an attempt to diversify my cross training of … would be a more modern term. I never became a great ski racer whatsoever. Anyone who out there is a ski racer, I was not a good one.
Ajax Greene: It did make me an outstanding recreational skier. I could go to any hill in the country and ski as well as most of the people there. But so it was great. I liked it, and then that just led in to … In the ’80s, I think I went through a brief unauthentic yuppy phase when I … I climbed every year, but I was climbing a lot less during the ’80s. Then part of that, I was married at the time. My wife climbed a little bit, but I would not describe her as a climber.
Ajax Greene: She didn’t prevent me per se, but I chose, and part of that, I was even living in Eldo and not climbing much, so it was an odd time. I was skiing a lot. So it’s still super active. But then in the late ’80s, I reawoken and said, “I’ve let a really important part of myself not be in the forefront as much as it had been, and I need to bring it back.” That’s when I think I figured out my plan, maybe not consciously, but over time for the rest of my life. [crosstalk 00:16:06]
Don McGrath: I love it, Ajax, and becoming a climbing lifer. So you are listening to an interview with Ajax Greene, a legend and real influencer in American climbing, and you are listening to the Climbing Lifer Podcast. I’d to give a shout out to one of our sponsors, Sharp End Publishing. They are a climbing book coming publishing company by climbers for climbers.
Don McGrath: So, they publish all kinds of guidebooks. Their Shelf Road guidebook is my favorite, my go-to. That’s one of my crags. They have great, great guidebook on Indian Creek, Moab, New York City bouldering. Just go to sharpendbooks.com, and you can see all they’re offerings. So if you know you have an upcoming trip, go there and see what they have. If you don’t have an upcoming trip, go there and get inspired to create an upcoming trip.
Don McGrath: I can’t say enough about Fred and Heidi Knapp and what they’ve done for me personally. They are publishers of my book that I published with Jeff Ellison, that I wrote Jeff Ellison, Vertical Mind, which is about psychological approaches to optimal climbing. We received great feedback on this book, and if you want to get this book, you can go to sharpendbooks.com or Amazon, pick it up if you want to improve your mental game.
Don McGrath: Ajax, you went through this period where you drifted. It sounds you were still climbing a little bit. You said, “I was climbing, but I wasn’t really a climber maybe in that period.” So tell me about that transition, and what was going on, and how did you come to realization? What was the moment when you recognize, “Gosh, I need to revitalize this climbing thing?”
Ajax Greene: It’s interesting. Probably the oldest friend I’m still in contact with, my friend, Steve Hendrick, who I climbed a lot with in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, I think he and I went climbing up on Cannon. I hadn’t been climbing much, and now, I was single again, I had the freedom, and I was just like, “Wow, this is really fun. Why aren’t I doing this all the time?” That really brought me back in a serious and consistent way.
Don McGrath: Yeah. Sometimes the life circumstances just changes the things for us, right? I mean, there could be an illness, there could be a relationship, there could be a move, there could be career, there could be job. A lesson that I think I’ve learned, and it sounds you’ve experienced too, is just being flexible. Just adapting to whatever that situation is, would that describe the philosophy or the strategy?
Ajax Greene: Yeah, here is no question there’s a rhythm to life, and so some years you climb a lot and you have a really good year, some years you don’t. I mean for me, I’ve really worked on not being attached to the outcome, just showing up on any given day, do my best, whatever that is that might be not very hard, that might be pretty hard. It doesn’t matter as long as I just show up and do my best with no attachment, and as long as I’m having fun, it don’t matter.
Don McGrath: That’s incredible. A little earlier, you mentioned that you had some minor injuries. Climbing, no doubt, is hard on our bodies. I had shoulder surgery a few years ago. It can be tough. When I was asking people about what they might want to get from this podcast, one of the things was dealing with injuries, whether from a mental aspect or from a physical aspect. So maybe you can share with us, what lessons have you learned about staying away from them, or when you get them, how do you handle that?
Ajax Greene: The first thing, and I think I might’ve said something earlier, I really … and I can’t say exactly when I got to this. Maybe it might’ve been … because I had been living out in Colorado, but again not climbing much, and I moved back East. I remember thinking, “Oh, if I’m going to live here in the East, I have to think of activities to do on rainy days, because you get them here.” So that’s when I took up mountain biking because you can do that on maybe not in the pouring rain, you can, but not so much fun.
Ajax Greene: But crummy days when you definitely don’t want to be climbing, you can be outdoors mountain biking. I think that got me more into this idea of cross training, and so that I can always be active but I spread it out over a number of different activities and I find, when I get injured, it’s because I’ve done the same activity too much and I’m tired and that’s when I get injured. But what I’ve discovered is, and this comes back to the ego thing, because of my cross training, I can’t climb as hard by doing that is if I just focused on climate.
Ajax Greene: But my fear is, if I just focus on climbing and climbing harder, and I get injured, then I’m out, and that’s a problem. These are made up numbers, but maybe if I focused only on climbing, I’d still be climbing 5.11. Well, but if I got injured and I’m out, well that’s awful. I’d rather be content climbing 5.9, I’m still leading solid dunks, 5.9. I hike, I bike a lot, I’m a road bike now. I gave up the mountain biking. I do lots of other activities that I enjoy them just as much as climbing, and I feel that cross training is like I’m exercising all the time.
Ajax Greene: Now, this is a particularly good year. Not every year is this. I’m not a spreadsheet guy, but I just track the number of days in a month I exercise and what it was. Nothing more than that, not even in a spreadsheet. [inaudible 00:23:13] This year, I’ll come close, I’ll be just under averaging 23 days a month of exercise. But that’s spread out over lots of different things. For me, I’m healthy and I’m happy. That’s the starting point. That’s what matters.
Ajax Greene: Then the numbers, hey, if they come, great. If they don’t, who cares? I’m never going to do what I’ve done before, so why get attached to any of that as long as I’m having fun? For me now, going out that day with you and Rui, I love you guys. I did climbs, I’ve done a million times. I could care less if I did those climbs, but for me, the joy was climbing with you guys. I like climbing, I like the exercise, but it was being with you that was the magic.
Don McGrath: That is something that I’ve grown to appreciate. When I was younger I was like, “Get after it.” My wife used to make fun of me because I’d be pacing around the tent at 6:00 in the morning, and like, “Let’s get going.” Right? Climbing for me also is about the company, it’s about where I go to eat. It’s some cool stuff to do around. Like you had mentioned before, if you’re thinking about going on a climbing trip, it’s about the climbing, but it’s also about other cool places that it will bring you and other experiences that you’ll have.
Ajax Greene: You’re right. Absolutely.
Don McGrath: This whole concept of diversity I think is really emerging out of our conversation. Diversity and training, diversity and experience, diversity … Yeah, I mean [crosstalk 00:24:54]
Ajax Greene: And people.
Don McGrath: Yeah, diversity and people.
Ajax Greene: I couldn’t agree more.
Don McGrath: Now, one thing I could tell by watching you climb, because we climbed [inaudible 00:25:03], and we were a party of three. What do you do when you’re not [inaudible 00:25:07] you’re climbing your watch, and your technique is phenomenal. I mean, your work is phenomenal. I think that’s something that we as we get more trips around the sun, it’s a great opportunity for us, right? Because we can no longer depend upon maybe some of the tools that we used to really depend upon. I think that’s a huge opportunity for those of us who really want to focus on that.
Ajax Greene: Yeah, it’s interesting. People always talk about my footwork, and it’s true, it was always a strength, a strength that isn’t there anymore, but was when I was younger, was my flexibility. I could do a Russian split and put my chest to the floor, no problem. Now, if I can bend over and touch my knees, it’s good morning. But yeah, I think those things are important. I mean, for me, and this is the same thing was skiing, as with climbing, it’s like with skiing, it’s not how fast I go, it’s do I feel the flow of the curve as I’m going through my turn?
Ajax Greene: Same thing with climbing. It’s like, “Can I get myself in the flow?” Sometimes that does happen on really hard climbs, but sometimes that can happen amazingly on more moderate climbs where you just feel this flow, and that flow … I’m really I’m a longtime meditator and mindfulness person, and when you’re in that flow state, that’s when sports can participate in restructuring our brains and making them more holistic and more effective. So there’s actually a lot of science behind this fun. [crosstalk 00:27:11]
Don McGrath: No. Yeah, it’s interesting you say that. It’s interesting you say that, because in my first book, 50 Athletes Over 50, I interviewed 50 athletes doing all kinds of different sports. One of the lessons that emerged from me and out of that research was that, one of the most common reasons that they’re still at it is the joy of play.
Don McGrath: They’ve been able to tap into that part of the brain that gets stimulated by play. A lot of us forget what it’s to like play. When we play, it taps into incredible creative juices, and so I think there is this element of being able to really tap into our love for that, that feel of what it’s to just play and move.
Ajax Greene: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. The words you used were perfect. But it is magical when you’re out and you’re just flowing, and that’s what … It’s not the numbers that I find addictive. It’s that feeling of flow, and I can get that on 5.2 or I can get that on 5.11, it doesn’t matter. That’s what’s interesting. I think when you let go of that attachment of some defined thing, because lots of times I’ll go climbing, and there are days you have a great day and then there’s days you go out and you just go …
Ajax Greene: I learned this back when I was soloing in the old days. I’d walk up, I’d start up 20 feet and I’d go, “Not today,” because I learned to really listen really deep, deep inside what was really going on, and I still bring that to my climbing today, whether it’s top roping, leading, it doesn’t matter. There are some days, I won’t lead, there’s other days I won’t even climb. I just belay or kibitz with my friends, and then I’ll just leave early because I’m just not having a good day. I might be in a perfectly good mood, I’m just not in the flow of climbing, so why fight it? Just go with it.
Don McGrath: That can be really tricky, right? That takes a whole different level of attunement, because we always … I don’t know about you, but I think most people, because I do workshops on this stuff. Most of us at some level have a little bit of butterflies or a little bit of something before we climb. It is a matter on the grade unless it’s super easy. There’s something inside our head that sometimes we’ll be like, “Eh, I don’t know if I’m up for this. Maybe that burrito I had for breakfast is … maybe I’m not doing my best.” One of our challenges is to overcome that, but one of our other challenges is to be really in tune enough to know when to honor that.
Ajax Greene: Right. No, the butterflies, no, I get those exactly as you described. Doesn’t matter the grade, I’m like, “Oh, don’t want to do anything dumb on this.”
Don McGrath: All right.
Ajax Greene: I completely appreciate the butterfly thing, but that’s different. That’s like a performance anxiety, and you’re right, we need to work through that. But this is a little bit deeper than that. Like I said, some days things click, some days they don’t. I like word flow. Some days you’re just really out of the flow, and at that point, it’s just like, “Why fight it? You’re not going to change it. The universe …” I think this is something I say frequently, sometimes in life there’s things we’re supposed to make happen, sometimes in life there’s things we’re supposed to let happen, and wisdom is knowing the difference between the two.
Ajax Greene: Sometimes climbing is not about trying it’s about letting it happen, letting that inner flow come out and just going up, and it’s not about just getting your goal on, and sometimes it is. It’s a lifelong inner conversation that I think humanity should be having because if we’re having that on the rocks and we’re having that conversation, then we’re having that in our lives, and I think that makes us better human beings.
Don McGrath: Well, if you’re listening to this or watching this, I hope you had your pen and paper out. That was incredible wisdom and I want to hear more about that because I want to hear about how those things have translated to non-climbing things in your life, Ajax. But I do want to give a shout out to another one of our sponsors, Speakers Pathway Coalition. I’m cofounder of Speakers Pathway Coalition.
Don McGrath: We show people who use their expertise in this, how to monetize their message, whether it be writing their book, whether it be putting together talks, getting paid for speaking, developing workshops. That’s what we do. If you want to learn more about that, you can look us up on the inner web. It’s speakerspathway.com. You can find out all about us, but I’m just honored to be part of Speakers Pathway and to help people to monetize their message. I want to do with you [inaudible 00:32:38] a little fun game, Ajax.
Ajax Greene: Sure. Of course.
Don McGrath: I want to do this fun game. I’m going to play around a little bit. This is like a speed dating thing. I want to call it that. Get to know Ajax and quick. All right, so I’ve got a number of things I’m going to fire at you, and just answer the questions. They’re simple. I mean, I’m not going to ask you a math question or anything, but the more about you, and this is for people listening to get to know Ajax really fast. So, are you ready?
Ajax Greene: Yep.
Don McGrath: All right. Favorite food?
Ajax Greene: Boy. Mushrooms.
Don McGrath: Mushrooms. In particular kind of mushrooms, or you’re just a mushroom lover?
Ajax Greene: A mushroom lover. Although, one of my dear friends here, I’m not into it but I go with her and I hold her dogs while she forges for wild mushrooms. So I eat a lot of wild mushrooms that are locally [inaudible 00:33:35], so that’s terrific.
Don McGrath: All right, so tread climbing, sport climbing or bouldering?
Ajax Greene: Absolutely tread climbing.
Don McGrath: Favorite beverage?
Ajax Greene: Green tea. Green tea. [crosstalk 00:33:48]
Don McGrath: Favorite book?
Ajax Greene: Favorite book, favorite book. Oh boy. Since we mentioned it earlier, I’ll just say Straight Up, the biography of John Harlan.
Don McGrath: Favorite song or band?
Ajax Greene: Grateful Dad, easy.
Don McGrath: [inaudible 00:34:07] Easy peasy. Favorite piece of climbing gear?
Ajax Greene: [inaudible 00:34:13] Chalk bag. No question.
Don McGrath: Chalk bag?
Ajax Greene: I would leave the rope behind before I would leave my chalk bag.
Don McGrath: Well, probably more so now [inaudible 00:34:23] going to live on the East Coast than in Colorado, but definitely on the East Coast. All right. [Gerekli 00:34:27] or ATC?
Ajax Greene: ATC.
Don McGrath: Your favorite car, favorite vehicle?
Ajax Greene: I’m on Subaru 809. I’m a member of the cult.
Don McGrath: Subaru 809. All right. Well, thanks for playing along with that. People get a different perspective, to get to know you quick. I’d like to come back to, I had heard you use this term polymath, and I think it relates to this whole discussion around diversity and being able to maybe translate or experience, become great or good at different things, and I think there’s also crossover lessons from climbing. Tell me your thoughts on that.
Ajax Greene: Well, I hope this doesn’t come across as egotistical. It’s not meant to. I consider myself a polymath when I look at my climbing career, my business career, and I’m now into my 40th year as a meditator with another 20 years of yoga and mindfulness in there. So when I swirl all of that together, I think it comes up with some interesting things. So that make me effective in each area, particularly [crosstalk 00:35:52]
Don McGrath: Can you share some crossover or commonalities or?
Ajax Greene: Well, I think when we really learn to be present, and it’s an ongoing lifetime challenge, but how many times are you out with friends climbing and they’re stressing about what’s happening back at the office, and when they’re sitting there at the office, they’re daydreaming about, they wish they were climbing? If we could actually be present at what we’re doing, that I think is a big deal.
Ajax Greene: A lot of clients oftentimes will bring me on to help with interviewing people because I can … I really know how to show up, and I have a way of both making them attracted to the organization but also pushing them back on their heels in challenging them. So it’s a dual yin and yang yeng kind of thing. But it comes from being very present in the situation. So, there’s a business and a climbing application I think to that.
Don McGrath: It’s so funny you say that. It reminded me of a client call that I had the other day. I was working with an entrepreneur who just had a big disappointment with this big event they were doing, just there were some issues with it. They were thinking about next year’s event and they’re getting all wrapped up around that. They knew how to strategy for how they’re going to react or what they were going to do in the short term, but they were very caught up in all the different things that could or might or should happen between now and next October.
Don McGrath: I shared with them something that I’ve been learning myself with my own coach, is clarity. I only have clarity just so far, and my only job is to get there and get more clarity, and it occur to me the climbing analogy where, I mean, if I look up, I know my intention is to reach the summit. I may or may not, but my intention is to reach the summit. All I have clarity on is the next 10 feet. Right? It’s all I have clarity on. That’s all I can see.
Ajax Greene: It’s so amazing you used that word because, in my work, and I think it’s relevant in climbing, clarity has become a mantra, if you will, because I think it exists in people so little. You’re right. You don’t have to think about what it’s to be at the top of the climb. You only have to say, “Can I make it?” For me it’s, “Can I make it to the next piece of gear?”
Ajax Greene: Because you can make a decision, do I go on, do I come down when you have gear? That’s always been for me. “Where’s my next piece of gear?” That’s only how far I have to think. Now, I do have a strategy to go all the way kind of thing. But strategy and clarity or focus are different things, and so I’m only focused on to the next piece of gear.
Don McGrath: Yeah. When I coach people through my vertical mind workshops, a lot of times what’s going through people’s heads at the bottom is like, “Oh, I know the crux is really going to be hard. I find it really difficult to do this thing that’s 90 feet up there just before the anchors.” Well, that is what we call a distraction. In the moment, it’s not really helpful.
Don McGrath: I’ve also been coming across clarity as a mantra in my own business, and my own personal life. So those of you out there, I really would encourage you to think about what clarity you have in your life, in your business, in your relationships, in your climbing. I mean, the lesson that I’ve learned is, my job every day is to just get a little more clarity. I mean, it really is almost as simple as that.
Ajax Greene: I do a lot of writing, and helps bring some clarity to me, because when you get it … When you’re in your head, it’s not real. But if you put it down on paper and then revisit it over time, it gets real.
Don McGrath: You’re actually, I don’t know, thinking about doing a book, right?
Ajax Greene: Yes.
Don McGrath: Is that part of the writing that you’re talking about?
Ajax Greene: Yes.
Don McGrath: [crosstalk 00:40:45] working on that currently?
Ajax Greene: Well, I’m researching it. I have so much respect for people who have actually written a book as yourself. I don’t enjoy writing. I find it painful, and so I hesitate to say I’m writing a book. I’ll say I’m researching it.
Don McGrath: Researching it.
Ajax Greene: [crosstalk 00:41:11] 100th-
Don McGrath: If that helps you cope, Ajax, fine. But you’re an author in a … When you’re in that spot, when you don’t like writing, you just got to embrace the sock and just push through it because the message that you have is very important. Are you willing to share a little bit about the message?
Ajax Greene: Sure. It starts in a very dark place, which is I believe humanity is right on the cusp. I think decisions we make in the near future will determine what happens to humanity. One group of researchers are saying we have a 20% chance of going extinct as a species by the end of the century, in 80 years. I mean, if you went up and someone said, “There’s only an 80% chance you’ll survive that climb,” would you do it? And a lot of people wouldn’t. They’d say, “That’s too risky.” Well, that’s how humanity’s living every day. But short of extinction, we can end up in some bizarre Mad Max dystopian world, and that’s probably a 50 to 80% probability.
Ajax Greene: I’m thinking, “Okay, what do we need to do to save humanity?” I think some of that, and I think it’s very apropos to this conversation around climbing, and I think I’ve alluded to it. I think when we have brain coherence, and what that means is when the different parts of your brain all start functioning as a single unit and you actually think very differently and you relate to the world very differently, you’re much more tapped into … There’s all sorts of terms, collective consciousness, the unified field.
Ajax Greene: I think the more people that tap into that in a really healthy way, and they don’t even need to know they’re doing it, that’s how we change the world. In my lifetime, 97% of people of climate scientists are in agreement, so the intellectual approach is not working. We’re not saving humanity by the intellectual approach. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve seen on TV the starving children and [inaudible 00:43:58] The emotional approach has not been working.
Ajax Greene: It’s clear there needs to be another path forward, and so, my belief is that path forward is through brain coherence, which can come through a number of ways. The big four might be meditation, mindfulness, breath work, yoga. But there’s all sorts of other things, time and nature, sports, music. But I think what needs to be a part of this is your intention. So in other words, you actually need to let go. That’s why when I talk about climbing and being in the flow, it’s not about trying, it’s about letting go.
Ajax Greene: Your intention does need to be … Two people can go on a hike together. One can have tremendous brain coherence from that time in nature, and one might not, and I think that’s a lot about their intention and how they interact with nature and so forth. But I think, through the unified field, people … as that becomes more coherent, humanity will start making choices naturally and effortlessly, which will more in line with survival and thriving and all of those sorts of things. So it’s not a try.
Ajax Greene: What’s interesting about all of this, to step back a little bit, is, my observation of people in general, they’re stressed to the max. They’re freaking out on all kinds of level. Business today is way more stressful than it ever used to be. If you work in healthcare, not for profit, you’re stressed out. So I think what’s interesting is the way to save the world starts with radical self care. If people really start saying, “Let me take care of myself. I’m going to take time to meditate, I’m going to spend time in nature., I’m going to go climbing and get in the flow.” That radical self care I think will lead to the saving of humanity. Hence why-
Don McGrath: I love that, radical self care. If you listen to this, write that down. Because I was just having this conversation with my coach the other day, and I’ve been saying, “Sylvia and I are developing this ranch and I’ve got the podcast.” I said, “Well, I haven’t been really going climbing as much as I want.” He said, “That’s really important to you. You really need to do that.”
Ajax Greene: Absolutely.
Don McGrath: I love that concept, Ajax, and I want to hear more about that. Do you have a way for people to stay in touch with what you’re doing in this project? Or is it so early that there [inaudible 00:47:01].
Ajax Greene: I mean, it’s part of my advisory work that I do now in the business world. I mean, people can reach me. My email is Ajax@your, Y-O-U-R, onbelay.com.
Don McGrath: I love that. By the way, I love that URL. I love it. So if you want to [crosstalk 00:47:28] Go ahead.
Ajax Greene: I think it’s an important thing. We did a fun photo shoot when I first did my website. It actually needs to be redone. It’s gotten very stale by the [inaudible 00:47:44]. It was a friend of mine. We went climbing, but he got dressed up in a suit, and he had a laptop, but he’s leading the client and he’s standing there with his laptop, and I’m belaying him. But the idea is, and I think this is important, we don’t get through life on our own. I’m a huge believer in community. The idea is that you’re on belay is a real thing, not just in climbing, but in life, that the people we care about have to feel they’re on belay.
Don McGrath: I love that.
Ajax Greene: It’s a really important thing in life.
Don McGrath: If you’re listening to this, you can actually see that photo that Ajax [inaudible 00:48:29] because I was stalking you Ajax overnight. I was stalking. I am the spreadsheet guy, right? I am the preparer, so I was actually stalking Ajax this morning and last night. Yeah, if you go to youronbelay.com, you can see the photo that it’s a really cool photo by the way, and I absolutely love it. You are the perfect shill, because the next thing I wanted to do was give a plug for one of our other sponsors, which is me. [inaudible 00:48:56] our sponsors. This is the last book that I wrote to date, and once you write one book, Ajax, you will write more. I guarantee it.
Ajax Greene: Okay.
Don McGrath: This is I think my sixth book.
Ajax Greene: Wow.
Don McGrath: There’s only four good ones, I say though. Four good books, two of them are stinkers. This is actually a good one. It’s called The Climb. It’s a leadership fable about navigating challenging change, and it uses climbing metaphors, which you were just talking about, to … It’s a team that works for a company. They’re given a big challenge, then they’re totally dysfunctional. I get to be a character in the book, and through climbing, get to show them maybe how to show up differently.
Don McGrath: You can find this on amazon.com. If you happen to read any book by anybody actually, leave a review on Amazon. It’s really helpful for the author. Not only that, but it also helps other people see. Amazon is great. The more reviews there are, the more they present books to the people they think might want to read that book. So if you read somebody’s book, take the five minutes and leave a review on Amazon. It’s very helpful for the world. Ajax, I love that thought of you’re on Belay, and I can think of so many different contexts that that that could be used in. You currently do consulting, right?
Ajax Greene: Yes.
Don McGrath: Can you share with us how you use that analogy in your consulting?
Ajax Greene: Well, I described a little bit of my life’s purpose now, which is not climbing related, although entirely informed by climbing, is to reinvent the global economy, one person in one company at a time. Again, I think if we reinvent the global economy, humanity will end up, if not extinct, on some dystopian crazy world. I’m a really big believer in bringing our values and all of that to our work and being very explicit about it. I think that’s a really big deal. I mean, I’ll go out on a limb and say companies that don’t do it, we’ll be out of business in 10 years, and I think we’re going to see huge radical shifts in our economy in the next 10 years. Huge.
Don McGrath: Wow, fantastic stuff. [inaudible 00:51:36] Bring it back to climbing. Some fun stuff that the listeners might get. So favorite place to climb?
Ajax Greene: I’d have to say the Gunks, not only because I live here but of anywhere I’ve been in the world, it’s got the best climbing for an aging climber, because there’s 5.4s here that are as classic as many of the 5.10s in Yosemite. For an aging climber, I have lots of climbs that are high quality that I can do, that aren’t 5.10 or above, [crosstalk 00:52:16].
Don McGrath: I got a second that. I cut my teeth in the Gunks, [inaudible 00:52:19] But I haven’t been there in quite a while until the last few years, I’ve gone back for some trips. But you can be on a 5.3 and go over a roof. Right? I mean, it’s mind-blowingly fun. If you can climb 5.7 or 5.8, you can have a lifetime’s worth of climbing in the Gunks.
Ajax Greene: Absolutely.
Don McGrath: How about favorite place to go to visit and climb, but not necessarily for the climbing? It might be for the food, it might be for the people.
Ajax Greene: What first comes to mind, and I don’t want to belabor it, but I’m not a big gambler but when I do go to Red Rocks, I’ll take one night, go down to the strip, go out for dinner, then I’ll take 100 bucks, which is my budget for the night. I wait in line for the cheapest $2 crap, not crap, some 21 table blackjack, and I’ll play as long as that 100 bucks last. I just view it as paid entertainment. I’m not expecting to win, and I enjoy it. It’s a diverse experience that I don’t get very often.
Don McGrath: Excellent. Excellent. How about money saving tip for when you travel? Climbers love to save money. Anything to share?
Ajax Greene: Boy. I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask this. [crosstalk 00:53:50]
Don McGrath: Neither am I, by the way. Neither am I.
Ajax Greene: I’m not a good saver. It’s never been a real strength of mine. Yeah, when I travel, I like to eat out. I hate to camp. I guess the best thing I could say is how many people can you fit in a motel room?
Don McGrath: Yeah. Yeah, right.
Ajax Greene: Definitely push those limits.
Don McGrath: Push those limits, but don’t push them too far. You want to stay away from the places. I went to Winslow Arizona once, and there was a hotel for 1995. I was like, “Yeah, I’m not pushing those limits.”
Ajax Greene: Yeah, there you go.
Don McGrath: So how about others? We talked about diversity. We talked about being in tune with your body and with your mind. It’s interesting that the things we’ve talked about, for remaining in the game almost … they’re very mental, they’re very on the spiritual side and on the balance side, not so much-
Ajax Greene: Absolutely.
Don McGrath: … about the training side. Anything else to share along those lines?
Ajax Greene: No. I mean, for me, when I’m at my fit best, it’s like I’m climbing, biking, yoga, and I just rotate. I’m doing something almost every day, but it’s always different and I don’t get injured. I stay in the game. I’m having fun because I enjoy those other activities as much as climbing, so it’s not like I feel like I’m suffering to do these other things. Now, going to the gym, which I do here in the winter, yes, that is … I don’t enjoy gym culture, rock gym. I’m not rock gym. I mean, regular weightlifting gym.
Ajax Greene: I don’t enjoy the culture but it’s good for my body. I’ll have to say that you’ll like this because of what I do in the gym my knees are better now in my 60s than they were in my 40s. There is hope, because at one point my knees were getting so bad, I was getting worried. I got other things that worry me, but now my knees are good.
Don McGrath: One thing that I’ve discovered, and this was … I think this really came out of I had some lower back problems in my 30s, and then shoulder problems when I was in my early 50s, is that I do a 30 to 45 minutes of physical therapy, pretty much every morning. Stress stretching and stretching the joints that are problematic for me or that I feel that might be problematic, and that’s … I agree, when I do that, that’s a game changer for me. I mean-
Ajax Greene: It’s interesting. I went to the Bonnie Prudden School a long time ago. I’m a certified myotherapists and exercise therapists. I haven’t practiced since the mid ’80s, but I have that experience. But the one thing that I did before then, that Bonnie only poured gas on it for me was, I warm up before I climb. So I walk to the climb. I have this whole warmup routine that I do, which involves …
Ajax Greene: It’s neither stretching or strengthening. It’s just taking your joints through their range of motion to get you lightly warmed up. None of my partners do it. They all laugh at me, they all tease me, but yet, I’m not injured. I’m a huge, huge, huge believer in warming up. So, I walk, I warm up, I do a warmup pitch if I can, and then I climb.
Don McGrath: Well, that’s super valuable. I truly believe that that, and just devoting the time to that, that maintenance of the joints, right? When I had my shoulder surgery, my doc said, “A stiff joint is a painful joint.” As we get older, our joints will stiffen up unless we do something about it. I would love to hear about, in this last year, what was one of your highlights from a climbing standpoint? Was it a flow day? What was your highlight this past year?
Ajax Greene: One of the things I’ve started doing here in the Gunks is trying to see if I can do climbs all in one pitch to the top, and these are we’ll say in the six to eight range for me. But what that oftentimes means is you can’t put the gear where you want it because if you do that, you’ll get rope drag and you won’t succeed. So you can only put gear where it makes sense. I’ve been doing this for a few years but … For example, doing Madame G’s to the top in one pitch. It’s not a crazy hard thing, but it’s a fun …
Ajax Greene: It takes a climb you’ve done lots of times, adds a new twist and a new challenge to it, keeps it a little bit fresh, and you’ve got to have your head on to do it because, “Oh, I’m scared, I want a piece of gear. But if I put it in, it’ll mess me up.” It might be bomber piece right there, and you have to skip it to where it makes sense. So it takes a level of discipline, and so that’s a fun game that I’ve been playing.
Don McGrath: That I think is back to diversity, right? Trying different things, playing the game maybe a little bit differently, right?
Ajax Greene: Yeah.
Don McGrath: That acquire some different skills. Well, Ajax, I can’t tell you what it means to me. I’m so honored to have had you on the first Climbing Lifer Podcast. I have had an absolute blast. I think you’ve shared some incredible information that the listeners of this, both who are watching it live and who will see it on the podcast, it’s going to get their brains tweak and get their brains thinking. I really, really appreciate you, and what you’ve shared with us today.
Ajax Greene: Well, it was a gas and it was fun, and to future folks, it’ll be fun. So jump on and have fun with it.
Don McGrath: All right, thank you so, so very much, Ajax. Again, this is the Climbing Lifer Podcast. This is episode number one. It’ll be published out on iTunes. When I get to it, it might be a week or two. But again, I want to honor Ajax for joining, and thanks everyone who tuned in. Thank you for being part of the Climbing Lifer Community.