Reaching higher


Skylar Smith, 12, climbs at the “Golf Wall” area near the Glacier Club north of Durango. The Mountain Middle School student will compete in USA Climbing’s Sport Climbing Series National Championships next month.

By Jeff Eisele Herald staff writer

Skylar Smith has been climbing almost as long as he’s been walking. Now, the 12-year-old from Durango will see how high he can climb in national competition.

Skylar, who will be an eighth-grader at Mountain Middle School in the fall, will test his sport climbing skills Thursday through July 8 in USA Climbing’s Sport Climbing Series National Championships.

Skylar will compete against others his age in the sport climbing competition, which emphasizes difficulty and problem-solving. There also is a speed competition.

“Sport is all about difficulty and what’s the highest hold you can get,” says Skylar, who qualified for nationals at a two-day divisional competition last month in San Diego.

“Climbing outside is probably his passion, and he loves to do multipitch climbing, but he just decided he wanted to go back to competing,” says Skylar’s mother, Shannon Smith.

Skylar’s father, Dan Smith, a real estate developer, introduced Skylar to climbing at the age of 3, and the two have been climbing together since. The family moved to Durango from Southern California two years ago.

“(Skylar) grew up climbing in the Santa Monica Mountains (in California),” says Shannon Smith. “He just had a passion for it as a little boy, and he goes to bed dreaming about the next climb. He has all of his favorite climbers on posters in his bedroom, so I guess it inspires him.”

Skylar’s youth is evident when he says things such as “I really like the adrenaline rush when you’re climbing high.”

But he sounds like someone much more mature than his 12 years when he talks about other aspects of climbing: “I like solving difficult problems and the hard work that goes into it.”

Hard work, indeed: Skylar says he works out at the Rock Lounge in Durango three or four times a week and climbs outdoors at least once a week. He and his father frequently make the trip to Moab, Utah, in the summer to do multipitch climbs together.

With his renewed interest in competing, Skylar has been working with climbing coach Marcus Garcia for the last three months.

Garcia, a pro-level climber himself who is hoping to be on a U.S. team competing in the new Olympic sport of mixed climbing in 2014, has developed his own training regimen specifically designed for competition and has been adapting that for younger climbers competing at the Rock Lounge.

But Skylar can handle a little more, Garcia says.

“He’s at that age where he’s starting to develop,” Garcia says. “This helps his body adapt to the demands that this kind of training places on you.”

Says Skylar: “We work on a lot of power and upper-body stuff, lots of endurance, too, for routes because a lot of these gyms have long walls.”

And Skylar likes to compete.

“It’s very stressful in some parts. In other parts, it’s very rewarding,” he says, again sounding older than his 12 years. “When you sit in the chair right behind the rock, you’re really nervous, but once you get on the rock, you’re very focused.”

His focus will be tested in four days of competition in Atlanta. There will be two qualifying rounds, followed by semifinals and the championship round.

“It feels pretty cool. I’m definitely nervous, but I’m training really hard with Marcus, and I hope to do well,” he says.

When not climbing, Skylar also has a passion for music. He plays guitar with a band at the Stillwater Foundation in Durango.

“We can jam,” says Skylar, now sounding like a kid again. “Sometimes we come to my house and just play some songs.”

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