Interview written and compiled by Stephanie Hall
Have you ever noticed a woman climbing hard at VE wearing a fox tail chalk bag? If so, you know this weeks WCW, Paige Orcutt! Paige, @orcawho is a lawyer by day and a Jill-of-many-hobbies by nights and weekends. She runs, backpacks, finishes crossword puzzles, loves a good roadtrip and a good book, and is always on the lookout for the best post-send meal. Paige is relatively new to both climbing and Duluth; she fell in love with both in the spring of 2017, but I think it’s safe to say she’s fallen pretty hard for this town and the climbing community! She dove in deep pretty quickly: sport climbing, ice climbing, bouldering, getting on a few multi-pitch climbs while on climbing trips, and she’s got a lot of goals for this upcoming outdoor season. We can’t wait to see the adventures to come!
What do you love about climbing/what does climbing mean to you?
It’s an athletic and mental challenge unlike the sports I grew up playing. I grew up participating in track, soccer, and basketball. In those sports, the main idea is to GO. In climbing, although the main idea is to GO UP, you must stay in the moment and consider how best to go up. Where are my feet? Where is my weight? How is that hold? Where is my next clip? Climbing has led me to explore places I would otherwise not have gone, like Nevada, Kentucky, and Wyoming.
How did you get started climbing?
When I moved to Duluth I did not know a soul. I found out that a guy I met in undergrad lives here. I forced him to be my friend and he introduced me to his friend group (male and female!) and the friend group’s collective hobby of rock climbing! I immediately loved the sport (It took me a little longer to fall in love with the guy).
Have you done any sort of training to become a better climber since starting?
Yes! My training for climbing is to climb 2-3 times per week, and cross-train with lifting or running other days. When I lift, I try to incorporate climbing-style moves. For instance, I’m unable to do more than 2 pull ups unassisted right now, therefore, I do assisted pulls ups, with a band or weight, or I do “Negative Pullups”. In a Negative Pullup, I jump to the top of the pull-up bar, lock off, and then try to lower myself slowly and in control. Repeat for 5 reps, 3 sets. When I climb, I try to climb lots of routes that are medium-to-hard for me. Every now and then I will have a day of “endurance”, meaning all I do is laps on an easy auto-belay. I boulder when I want to work on strength/power. I also like playing “add-on”, which is making up your own problem with another person/persons, move by move. That is like endurance bouldering, but it’s magically fun. I often fall short of meeting this training plan, so do as I say and not as I do.
How are you hoping to grow as a climber or what skills are you hoping to develop?
Being naturally competitive and used to athletic training, I hope to progress through the grades. This year I want to redpoint a 5.10d on toprope and redpoint a 5.10b on lead. I will also flail and hangdog on some 5.11a/b’s this year to gain exposure. I also will work on my knowledge of anchor systems and trad placements to be able to lead some multi-pitch in the 5.9s or 5.10s.
What is something about your climbing history no one would ever guess?
My mother was a pediatric nurse for my childhood and adolescence. I suspect that as a result of what she dealt with on a daily or weekly basis, I was not allowed to do many “dangerous” activities growing up. Such as staying out past dark, using a lawnmower, and …. climbing trees! When I began climbing in 2017, it was essentially the first time I ever climbed anything but a staircase.
You are not native to Duluth or the surrounding area, how did you come to live here and why have you decided to stay?
When I graduated from law school, I applied as a judicial law clerk to a state court Judge here in town. A judicial law clerk is a person who provides direct assistance and counsel to a judge in making legal determinations and in writing opinions by researching and advising. I went to school at the U of M in the cities (go gophers!) but I did not know anything about Duluth. It was my first time in town when I came up to interview. I really wanted the job, so even though I had an offer for a job in the Twin Cities, when I was offered the law clerk position, I said yes! I figured I could live anywhere for 1-2 years. I was hired on a Friday and moved up here a week later – I lived at the Days Inn by the Edgewater for four days while I looked for an apartment! After falling in with a great crowd, I discovered a) that I loved the outdoors; b) that Duluth’s access to the outdoors is amazing; and c) that people here are lovely, genuine, and adventurous in a type of way that I think only this place could create. Case in point – VertiGals! Keeping in mind that my career could take me anywhere, I have decided to stay here for the foreseeable future.
Share a story of an impactful climb or experience you’ve had related to climbing (good or bad), or an experience you’re proud of.
[I couldn’t chose one story. So I wrote 2.]
One experience I am proud of is the first time I belayed someone on lead. We were at Petenwell Bluff in Necedah, WI. It was my first time outdoors and I had only been climbing indoor for a few months. I used an ATC to belay. My partner jumped on a climb a bit above his flash point. He was a ways above his last clip and knew he was unable to get the next clip. He also knew he needed to instruct me how to handle the whipper he was about to take. He called down, “Uh, Paige, I’m definitely going to fall. Get closer to the wall and get ready.” I did as I was told. Down he came. The fall was BIG. I rocketed off the ground as he came down, his feet hitting my helmet. My brake hand was sucked into my device and I saw blood. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t make the catch! I was proud of the way I handled the situation and that my hand held even though it was a little mangled afterward.
An impactful climb of mine was my first outdoor crack climb. I tried crack climbing a little bit in the gym and hated it. My sensitive back-of-the-hand skin was constantly getting ripped off, the movement was awkward, and honestly, who thinks “jamming” sounds comfortable? Fast forward to a trip to Red Rock Canyon outside of Las Vegas in 2018. I was climbing with fellow VertiGal Karina (hey girl!). I started the day adamant that I would not attempt a crack. Fast forward not even two hours later and I’ve been talked into trying a 5.10a, mostly vertical but slightly curved, crack climb. Although I fell >10 times at the start, I finally unlocked the technique and had. a. BLAST. Since that climb, I love crack and try to jam whenever possible. That climb taught me the importance of trying out new styles and listening to your friends. That climb also taught me a bit about swinging. (See photo)
Have you experienced sexism this or any other climbing community?
I want to take this chance to recognize my male climber friends. Gender equality to me means equal access and respectful attitudes. Although I experience the ‘usual’ sexism in other areas of my life, my male climbing friends and partners support not only me personally, but the VertiGals community and any lady crusher in our gym. They may not say that they are feminists – there’s still a lot loaded into that word for some reason – but they treat me exactly the same as they treat male counterparts and empower me to push my climbing. In fact, I’m shockingly pleased to find that there are many male allies in our climbing community! I cannot recall a time I felt slighted due to my gender. Shout out to the allies for doing it right! I’m a better climber for it.
What made you join/ get involved with VertiGals?:
I heard my friends Molly and Erin were creating a space for us lady crushers in the gym. I support the group’s mission. It’s a way for me to further gender equality and equal access.