Mountaineer Rick Ridgway spent five decades traveling into uncharted territories, conquering the world’s most treacherous mountains, sometimes before anyone else. Here are his keys to achieving peak performance. – As told by Charles Thorpe
looking for inspiration
I’ve always had a passion for books, and I’ve been a big reader since I was a boy. It had a profound impact on my life on multiple occasions and initially inspired me to become a climber. I read to National Geographic The story of the first American to climb Mount Everest and wanted to be like him. That guy was Jim Whitaker, and I didn’t know he was going to be the captain of our first American ascent of K2 in ’78. It was around the time I got up K2 when another book came out called snow leopard. Naturalist George Schaller, the main character, became my mentor and one of my best friends. I set up an expedition with Galen Rowell, Conrad Anker, and Jimmy Chin to find the birth grounds of the chiru, an endangered Tibetan antelope, to support George’s research and help protect the animal. It was the most important trip of my life. My house has a room that I completely surrounded by books, including the first book I bought when I learned to climb called Freedom of the Hills. That room is one of my favorite places.
Redefine peak condition
I don’t remember any of my friends climbing back in the ’60s or ’70s when they went to the gym. None of us had a training regimen. We climbed all the time and went on long hikes to reach the mountains before our excursions. The walking routes to the historic climb that people know of were much longer than they are now. This was our bootcamp experience for any mountain we were climbing, whether it was hiking from Kathmandu to Everest or even K2. I actually started going to the gym in the ’80s, but I haven’t done anything crazy. I learned the benefit of exercising light weight with higher repetitions to maintain the lean mass I need. I do that three times a week these days. I have always valued fitness, even as a teenager. I got fit in high school and never got out of it. My weight is exactly as I was at the time, 157 lbs. I know it may sound bragging to some, but I’m proud of that fact. This commitment to physical health is what has served me well over the years.
I got fit in high school and never got out of it.
It’s better to bend over than rest
For over 20 years, my hip has been causing me problems, and it causes an insane amount of discomfort. It was getting worse over time. They got so bad that I was having a hard time sleeping because of the pain. I met a doctor who tried to recommend a hip transplant while I was still “young and strong,” as he put it. I was in my fifties at the time. I was still worried about what the recovery and the complications might be like. That’s when I discovered yoga through Yvon Chouinard. A little later I met Jerry Lopez. Getting to know Jerry had a huge impact on me, because I could see how useful yoga could be in maintaining my world-class surfing skills at an older age. He seemed to be getting better every month, and he attributed that to yoga. I was working in Patagonia when I started my practice, and I would go to the classes we have in the office. I started seeing the benefits very quickly and was able to avoid having the surgery. Being flexible and agile while staying strong is extremely important at my age. I’ve created my own routine over the years that I practice on a mat at home. I do this about three times a week. I like not having to take out my phone or look at any videos. It is the time for me to find peace. I do this in the afternoon, because I can clear my mind of noise and end my day with a better mindset.
I started trail running in my early twenties, and it’s still one of my favorite activities. It initially started when I was traveling a lot for work, because it seemed like an easy way to get outdoors and stay in shape no matter where in the world I am. All I need is shoes. These days, I do most of the running at home in Ojai. I live next to Los Padres National Forest. There is an incredible network of driveways off my backyard. I’ve been on those tracks every day this week, but I have to be careful. This morning, my feet moved away from the rattle by about eight inches. I have to make sure I’m always up to date. Over the years, I’ve become a fan of the feel and performance of HOKA running shoes. I plan to stay on the road as long as possible.
Find your base of operations
I was always as much a surfer as I was a climber – an ocean and a mountain person. Therefore, it was important for me to live in a place where I could do everything. I stayed in Malibu in the 1970s, but over time I was disappointed with the number of protesters. I started visiting Ventura and Santa Barbara Surfing area when I first met Yvonne Chouinard, whom I would later work with in Patagonia. Eventually we started climbing there and I figured it suited me better personally. I asked Yvonne to keep his ear to the wind for a place I could call home. It didn’t take long to find one, and I moved a few doors down from his spot. This was in the late 70’s so I guess I qualify as a local at this point. Over the course of my career, I estimate that I have grown about five years of my life in tents, and I can tell you it’s nice to live in a place you’d be happy to come back to. I enjoyed getting out into the wild in the backyard as much as I did in the remotest corners of the world.
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