Kevin Thaw is part of The North Face, a feet that many climbers, mountaineers and outdoor sports people would love to have under their belt. Their trademarked tagline “never stop exploring” becomes all the more relevant with adventurers such as Kevin Thaw.
Kevin might be modest when talking about his achievements, but rest assured a list of summits longer than my arm would not do this prolific climber justice (see below). Expeditions have included summitting the north face of Everest, tracing George Mallorey’s steps with fellow mountaineer, Conrad Anker.
The North Face states:
Often heralded as the U.K.’s number one all-around climber, Kevin has consistently performed at the top level of many disciplines – alpine, big wall, traditional, ice, mixed and bouldering – and shows no sign of slowing down.
With this, you can see why CheapTents.com are so excited to have this insight into the life and motivations of Kevin Thaw…
Kevin Thaw Interview
CheapTents.com What inspired you to get into Climbing?
Kevin: My initial motivation to get out the door for a first vertical experience came from a TV show. Britain’s three channels at the time had myself and all local friends watching the same morning program: Two chaps climbing a route at Millstone quarry (Oxford street if current and ancient memories are cross referencing correctly) in the UK’s Peak District. Phone calls immediately bounded between several of us and venue was narrowed from many options. My ancestral locale has sufficient venues to warrant it’s own guidebook, Chew Valley – Moorland Gritstone, abundant in steep .
A washing line of the 7mm-ish plastic coated variety was the only cord glean-able at such short notice. Den Lane quarry was the chosen venue, closest to the village. Upon arrival it became apparent that none of us had actually picked up on how the rope played into climbing, even though it was the most crucial and only piece of gear we had? We eventually secured it atop the chosen crack line and ‘chicken soloed’ next to it (free climbing with the idea of grasping the rope should anything go wrong? Can’t say I’d recommend such a method to begin steep endeavours, local climbers seemed the think the same after seeing our repeated visits without procedure change, finally a couple of climbers took us aside an literally showed us the ropes.
Harnesses were purchased directly from the Troll factory and a rope was “found” at a nearby pallet (wooden crates designed for fork lifter loading) factory. Each week a new piece was added to the rack, safety to progress up the grade levels.
CheapTents.com: What has been your biggest sporting achievement?
Kevin: Hard to honestly pick a single achievement or particular ascent. I’ve found switching gears between climbing’s disciplines has kept motivation ebbing and always refreshed the set of goals. Can’t honestly say it’s a consciously shift from, say; Alpine or big walls to sport climbing or bouldering modes, environment of course dictates. New routes have always been a big motivation but again switching gears from the wee stones and crags to frosty Patagonian or Himalayan walls.
CheapTents.com: What is you biggest weakness?
Kevin: Fascinated by small electronic items, the more they do the harder to resist!
CheapTents.com: When did you feel like you ‘made it’ in your field of outdoor sports? And do you feel like you’ve satisfied your goals?
Kevin: Have I ‘made it?’
Certainly feel like the stack of goal has been whittled yet remains the same size?
CheapTents.com: What do you find most challenging about training?
Kevin: Weather always promotes the biggest hurdle for getting into motion. Indoor climbing is of course an option but again location dependent. Living in a couple of California’s climbing areas is of course hard to beat when seasonality is right. When Joshua Tree gets too hot or the monsoon season landed in Bishop I strangely feel deprived.
CheapTents.com: What has been your worst injury (if any) from outdoors sports and how did it happen?
Kevin: The 150ft Patagonian slab ride as a ledge collapsed under me could have been ‘the one’ but falling thirty feet from a gritstone route at the Roaches in England is certainly the most trauma suffered. Got away with a cracked heel from an on-sight attempt of Obsession Fatale E8 6c. A traditionally headpointed climb that felt right on that sticky feeling autumn evening.
Incidentally, ‘Headpointing’ is the technique of previewing a climb with the safety of a top-rope with a view to rehearsing a difficult yet unprotected (no safety fixtures in the rock) sequence of moves, then climbing it ‘by fair means’ from the ground up.
Six weeks down time was a considerably lucky outcome from what could easily have been life changing.
CheapTents.com: What will be your most challenging climbs for next year?
Kevin: I’ve several plots in the mix for next year each could prove equally as challenging, sights are set firmly on a Patagonian goal and a Yosemite free climbing project. Plus am hoping current communication with a production company will come to fruition for a series of Big Wall shows. A high bar has been set for ascents to be filmed.
CheapTents.com: Where would you like to be in 5 years time? Main Ambitions?
Kevin: Not sure if one tour on this planet will be time enough to get through all that I’d like to do. Climbing goals aside, financial solvency is always a quest.
CheapTents.com: For other budding outdoor sports enthusiasts, what tips can you provide to help other compete at a higher level?
Kevin: Fuel your passion and get out there! If motivation can be kept on a high then training and activity should easily fall into place!
CheapTents.com: What are your favourite bits of gear, and why?
Kevin: I don’t think I’ve done a trip without a North Face Redpoint jacket since their invention. Warmth to weight ratio is hard to beat and of course is fashionable enough for cosmopolitan area. Certainly my most consistently carried garment.
CheapTents.com: Any people or sponsors that you’d like thank?
Kevin: The North Face, Wild Country, Five Ten…
CheapTents.com: Anything else you would like to say?
Kevin: I hope you find the wide eyed adventure and fun that I feel the outdoors have granted me.
CheapTents.com: Achieving so much across your career and across so many different fields certainly is worthy a huge thank you for your inspiration and devotion to outdoor sports. So, thank you from all of the CheapTents.com team, and also on behalf of our visitors. We would also like to wish you all the success with everything you wish to achieve long into the future!
This is a very long list of multi-disciplined climbing and mountaineering skills, but highlights the wide range of exposure Kevin Thaw has had over the years.
Kevin is well known for his in-the-field tests and trials of technology in some of the most inhospitable parts of the world. His experience of testing gadgets and technology in the field has lead him on many expeditions and provides a fantastic insight into how best to use things like satellite phones and pocket PC’s at altitude and in extreme temperatures, including the famous ‘Altitude Expedition’ last year that summitted Mount Everest.
TV, Film and Fame
Kevin Thaw has frequently been featured on the BBC and other Cable channels across the world. Along with this, he is also featured in multiple publications, and how-to videos, satellite dispatches and documentaries. Not only is he comfortable in front of the camera, he is also well know for rigging in challenging conditions for the entertainment industry – including stunt shots, aerials rigging and documentaries at altitude.
First Alpine Ascents:
- Fitzroy’s West face, 2600m VI 85º 11c (first free ascent) (Patagonia, Argentina).
- Cerro Standhardt, SCUD, 1,300 m., 5.11 A1+ W4+, direct start to Exocet (Patagonia, Argentina)
- Aguja de l’ S West face, “The Thaw’s Not Houlding Wright,” 1,400 m., 5.10+ (Patagonia, Argentina)
- Crowfoot Mountain, V WI4 M6 (Canadian Rockies)
- Mt. Temple’s north face, “Cup Tie” V 11 A2 (Canadian Rockies)
First Big Wall Ascents:
- El Capitan’s ‘Continental Drift’ VI 5.10 A4 (Yosemite, CA)
- ‘Dreams of Sea’ VI 5.10+ (The Kichatnas, AK)
- ‘Alaskan Rose’ V 11c (The Kichatnas, AK)
- ‘Sand, Sand n’ Sand’ VI 5.11+ A4 (Zion, UT)
- Sentinels Direct North face, V 12b, first free ascent (Yosemite, CA)
First Ice and Mixed Ascents:
- ‘Gogarth Crack’ M9 (Ouray, CO)
- ‘Careless Torque’ M8, ‘Staged Fright,’ M7, ‘Haggis Country,’ WI5 M7 (Lee Vining, CA)
- ‘Rebel Alliance’ VI 8 (Cairngorms, Scotland)
First Traditional UK Gritstone Ascents:
- ‘Order of the Phoenix’ E9 6c, ‘Sectioned’ E8 6c, ‘Scuttle Buttin’ E7 6c, ‘Minnie Monster’ E6/7 6c, ‘Breakin’ for a Bogey’ E6 6c, ‘Piedra Verde’ E6 6a, ‘Northern Passing’ XS 6c
First Californian Ascents:
- ‘Standard 8b’ 13c/d, ‘Brachiation Dance’ 13c, ‘Crema del Este’ 13b/c, ‘Car Logos n’ Savage Sets’ 5.13b, ‘Moondance’ 13b, ‘Nailed to the Cross’ 5.13a, ‘Cadillac Desert’ 13a, ‘Bolt Worthy’ 5.12d, ‘Toxteth Walk’ 5.12c, ‘Pennine Crack’ 12c, ‘To Hold’ 5.12c, ‘Druid’s Scoop’ E6 6a
First Bouldering Ascents:
- ‘Powerband West’ V11, ‘Satband’ V10, ‘Iron Slap’ V10, ‘Tidal Right’ V10, ‘Whale’ V10, ‘Grit Dreams’ V9, ‘Mooned’ V9, ‘Stateside’ V9
- Fitzroy’s North Pillar, 1,400m, 5.11+ (Patagonia)
- ‘Mutants Can Be Nice,’ 5.13, second ascent (Freeclimbing, U.K.)
- El Capitan: ‘Reticent Wall’ VI 5.9 A5 second ascent, “Plastic Surgery Disaster” VI 5.9 A5 second ascent (Yosemite, CA)
- Garhwal: attempted Kedar Dome’s E pillar alpine style (Himalaya, India)
- Jannu North Face: alpine-style attempt (Himalaya, Nepal)
- Flashed the second ascent of ‘Taste the Pain’ 13b (Joshua Tree, CA)
- Winter solos of ‘Slipstream’ V WI4+ and ‘Andromeda’s Shooting Gallery’ IV 9 M5 (Canadian Rockies)
- Solos of Midi’s ‘Frendo Spur’ TD (3h 56m), Swiss Route Les Courtes TD (3h 28m), north face of Les Droites ED1 (8h), Bonatti Zappelli, ED1 winter, ‘Rolling Stone’ ED3 and ‘No Siesta’ ED2/3, early repeats (Grandes Jorasses, Alps, France)
- ‘Replicant’ V WI 7, ‘French Reality’ V WI6+, ‘Nemesis’ VI WI6, ‘Sea of Vapours’ V M6 WI6+ (Canadian Rockies)