The ups and downs of a pro climber


Geophysicist Graham Zimmerman shared stories from his mountaineering experiences.

Graham Zimmerman, master mountaineer, geophysicist and world traveler, has conquered peaks in over a dozen countries.

Last Thursday, students had the chance to meet Zimmerman and hear his stories at an on-campus event organized by SPU’s Outdoor Recreation Program.

It was the first event of its kind for ORP. Sophomore and ORP Coordinator Chris Herron said he was encouraged by the amount of interest shown by SPU students.

“With a week left, we gave out another promotional email for [the event], really trying to boost it, and in that one day we filled up the rest of our RSVPs,” Herron said. “I think it was like 70 in one day. And that was incredibly exciting just to see people excited for an event like this. Having the turnout that we did tonight was so fun.”

Zimmerman spent two hours sharing jokes, videos and photos from his adventures.

Although several of his photos drew impulsive “wows” from attendees, Zimmerman also revealed the less glamorous side of professional climbing.

His presentation included stories about spending hours trapped in a tent during a storm, going days without sufficient food or having to turn back before reaching the summit.

“There are some times where we come back from these trips and it looks like, you know, fist pumping and getting psyched, but there’s a lot of down time,” Zimmerman said. “There’s a lot of time spent in the tent, a lot of times where you’re like, ‘What am I doing here?’”

Senior Brennan Ralston appreciated Zimmerman’s candid talk.

“I was really encouraged by his persistence. In so many of his climbs, he, failed in a way [and] had to turn back, and I realized it takes a lot of patience, but he would always go back and wait for a better time to conquer the peak, and that’s really cool,” Ralston said.

Zimmerman dreamed of becoming a mountain climber since his first exposure to the climbing world as a 16-year-old. It was through a program based in Bellingham that Zimmerman participated in his first climb. He has pursued the sport ever since.

Zimmerman moved to New Zealand immediately after high school to attend the University of Otago. While earning his degree, he was simultaneously able to explore New Zealand’s terrain and build his skills as a climber.

With his combined experience as an athlete and academic, Zimmerman landed a job as a professional alpinist for an outdoor recreation company shortly after graduating.

Although climbing is the focus of his career, Zimmerman said he loves the opportunity to speak at events like the one on Thursday night.

“Working as an athlete representative ambassador in the industry, it’s really cool to be able to try and inspire people, and I mean, there’s definitely a marketing aspect in what I do, but I try to really make sure that’s secondary to creating a vicarious experience and creating inspiration for folks to either go get after it in the mountains or get after it with whatever they would like to do,” Zimmerman said.

ORP partnered with Tmber, a well-known outdoor sports organization based in the Northwest, to create the event.

Herron said that in the end, the event came together much easier than expected due to the fact that both Tmber and Zimmerman were so easy to work with.

“We’re so thankful for [our partnership with] Tmber and for Graham. They were so flexible. We had to change the date a few times with reserving this room, [but it was] just so easy to do that with them.”

As of right now, ORP does not have another speaker lined up, but Herron says that they would love to host similar events in the future.

“We really hope to do more [events like this]. Unsure of whether or not it will be this year or maybe next year. Maybe an annual event of bringing in a professional athlete of some sort,” Herron said. “Not really sure what that’s going to look like, but we’re just really excited that this was going to go through. I’ll try to do as much as I can [toward] setting up future events.”


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