Inside: Cody Roth

A jump into Cody's world

06 October 2021
A jump into Cody Roth’s world!

There are a lot of climbers that, after years, become “the one that wins” or “the one that climbs”. Year after year, Cody Roth has become… Cody Roth! His world is simple: great climbing, great people, great food… From the USA he moved to Europe with just a tent and a backpack, then he visited all the world with the same spirit, moved by pure passion. Ladies and gentlemen please take a sit and fasten your seatbelts, you are about to fly on Roth’s Airlines...

"I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1983. If you have seen Breaking Bad, then you have seen where I grew up. Walter White's chemistry class was my real-life chemistry class!

 New Mexico is an interesting place. The altitude is high, we have snow in winter but 300 days of sun. You can also find just about every type of rock in New Mexico! None of it is as good as say, Arco, but there are plenty of diverse areas that do the job.

My mother's side of the family settled in New Mexico in the 1600s! They fled Spain during the second inquisition. It's rumored they were Jewish and they took refuge in New Mexico as it was one of the most isolated parts of the Spanish empire. They stopped their traditions for fear of further persecution, and lived a quiet life farming in the mountains once they settled there.

I remember clearly seeing people climbing for the first time when I was maybe around the age of five, in the Jemez Mountains. It stuck with me. I played and enjoyed baseball and soccer but the idea of climbing always stuck in my head, it just wasn't so accessible. Luckily, I finally got to climb for myself a few times at a summer camp and I convinced my mom to buy me climbing shoes a year or so later. I think it was in 1995 that my love for climbing really bloomed. I remember listening to the R.E.M. Monster album and daydreaming about climbing non-stop whenever I wasn't climbing!

My family were huge supporters of my climbing. Without them, I’m not sure if I would be climbing today. The initial gym in Albuquerque was really dismal. Half of the holds were rocks glued onto plywood! The owner would not allow me to climb without an adult being there, so my grandma would take me two days a week and sit in this horrible dusty, chalk filled mezzanine while I would climb. There were however some really enthusiastic climbers that took me under their wing and got me climbing outside. I also had a bouldering area a 15 minute bike ride from my house where I would also spend time.

In 1998 a modern gym came to Albuquerque and I started doing junior competitions. There weren’t any competitions in New Mexico that year, every contest was in Colorado which was a 6 hour drive away! Junior competition climbing in the US is a huge financial burden on families. There isn’t any financial support from the federation. That initial year I made it to the junior national event, but I didn’t even make semis.

The following year, at 15, I climbed my first 8a in 5 tries (I hadn’t climbed harder than 7b+ previously). I managed to place in the top 4 at Junior Nationals and I earned myself the chance to compete at the World Youth Championships, which were in Courmayeur. Of course getting to Europe to compete at this event was also on my family to pay for. That year with additional financial help from my grandmother and my aunt, my parents took me and my two younger brothers to Courmayeur. I think this trip changed my life. I climbed in the Verdon Gorge, and classic areas like Cimai, before the event. There were two climbers older than me on the team, Josh Heiney and Aaron Shamy. They invited me to climb with them at these spots, I was super fortunate. I had already been looking to European climbing for inspiration. Elie Chevieux, the Petit brothers, Catherine Destiville, Liv Sansoz, Cristian Brenna… These guys were my idols, I was so excited to be climbing in their backyard.

I remember I was 36th in Courmayeur, once again, I didn’t make semis. In similar style though, the following year, I made a jump, and I placed second at the American Junior Nationals and at the World Youth Championships I made finals. They were held just outside Amsterdam that year, which was 2000. After that I picked up my first sponsors, (material only) and the following year I was Junior North American Champion.

I’ve always felt like the underdog. I was diagnosed with learning disabilities similar to dyslexia at a young age, I was the shortest person in my class, and my family isn’t overly athletic. Yet, I’ve always loved sports and in climbing I found something that gave me a little bit of identity and a lot of satisfaction. My grandmother’s influence was also pivotal. She was already in her 80s at this time and still working full time running her own business, which was selling automotive paint to all the auto repair shops in town. She was tough and oftentimes a cruel lady, but she had a soft spot for me. I can remember already at the age of 8 if somebody said something that hurt my feelings, she’d say “opinions are like assholes, everybody has one.” Or if I was bullied she’d say, “Why haven’t you just tried punching them in the face?”. She fought tooth and nail for everything that she had in life. She even managed to put my mom and her two sisters through university on her own. She instilled in me a fighting mentality. 

 In 2002 I finished high school, climbed my first 8c (just before turning 18) and I did my first adult national level competitions and world cups. I think I placed 5th or so at the nationals and I didn’t make it past the qualifying round of the two world cups I tried. I went to Europe that summer with a backpack and $1,500 in my bank account. I stayed 3 months and navigated the continent hitch hiking to crags, making new friends and developing an even deeper love for Europe.

I came back to New Mexico and went to university. My family had a rough time financially in this period, and I was an adult, so financing my climbing was on me. I set routes at the local gym, Stone Age, and washed dishes at a pizzeria. I didn’t have much of a life outside of working, studying and climbing. I took second place at some US nationals and I developed a really nice friendship with Vadim Vinokur who was taking 1st place. That summer I took off to Europe once again with a backpack and $1,500 of savings to compete in world cups. I had a little one person tent that I’d sleep in at campgrounds before the world cups. At the world cup in Imst, Austria, I made finals that year, placing 6th. It was my 3rd ever world cup appearance, and that changed my trajectory somewhat.

No one expected a young American kid to make the final, and it was really nice and comforting the way the climbers in Europe responded. I remember Francois Petit shaking my hand after that final, that meant a lot to me. I really felt welcomed, more so than I had ever felt in the US. 

Kilian Fischhuber and Reini Fichtinger became influential and fantastic friends of mine during this time. They invited me to stay and climb with them around Innsbruck and it was epic fun. I’d never had so much fun before. When the end of summer neared I didn’t want to go home and they felt like they could help me find work through the winter and a place to live, so I stayed. Looking back on it, it was a completely hair brained idea!

We thought we could go through the proper channels and get me a residency visa, but it isn’t that simple. There were some Australian ski bums living in Innsbruck, undocumented, at that time and they explained the tricks to me and I went with it! I spent then 8 years living in Innsbruck straddling that gray line. If I had to do it all over again I probably wouldn’t, but I learned some invaluable lessons and had a great time being a climbing bum.

The Innsbruck community was great, but unfortunately my discipline and desire to compete waned. I do regret that. It would have been really great to have had a coach at this time. I needed to reset and there was nobody there to help me with that. I also became a bit bitter with the comp scene. The Americans didn’t give us any financial support and even made us pay our own entry fees at world cups! It turned into a grind. You're spending money you don’t have, and if you don’t make it past the qualification round, you’re only getting to climb once! I also had a really bad run-in with a judge that put me off. 

I love the psychological pressure that competing presents. Having one chance and having to make it count, this aspect I think makes sport so beautiful. Maybe it sounds corny, but Andrea Pirlo has always been an inspiration of mine. I loved how calm he could always seem when he played, and I’ve tried to emulate that with my climbing. When I’m not climbing I really don’t give a shit about climbing, at least not my climbing. I don’t waste time talking about sequences, I don’t lose sleep over climbing, I don’t worry about the minutia. But, as soon as I’m climbing I’m all in with every fiber of my body.

As I exited competition climbing, I also started to climb more with Much Mayr, Hans Milewski, Dougal Tavener and Hansjoerg Auer. These guys were amazing and they had a really positive influence on me. Together we lived through so many beautiful moments climbing and finding our place in life. I can only look back and smile. My Slovenian friend, Klemen Demsar and his wife Patricija were also so good to me. They’re the founders of Samsara climbing holds and they were like my second parents! My repetition of Malvazija, back in 2010, is because of them.

Shortly after turning 28, I decided to move back to New Mexico. The ski bum loopholes were closing. I spent the first year back, route setting and coaching junior climbers. I also did a couple trips to South Africa during that time (I think I’ve done 10 separate trips to South Africa over the years.) I also went on a bolting trip to the Dominican Republic and another fun trip to Colombia during this period. I put up a few harder routes (around 8c+) in New Mexico and did a couple harder trad ascents (around 8b) in my first year back in New Mexico.

During my time in Europe and also during this first year back in New Mexico, I also helped and participated in Chuck Fryberger’s films. Namely: Pure, Core, The Scene and Exposure. I really miss these types of productions and the work we did together. I think that social media has made it a lot harder to pull off quality productions such as Chuck’s. Now, there’s way more emphasis on frequency of output and way less attention to quality. I used to tease Chuck and tell him his style had too much narrative! I’ve always wanted to make a climbing film without words and just great sequences, scenery and soundtrack. Maybe it can still be done!

I struggle with the social media model of today. My Instagram probably has more photos of my dog and wife than it does of me climbing! I don’t mind posting a photo of myself climbing here and there, but if that’s all it is then I’m not comfortable with it. I’m conflicted with the example that is set if all you present is me, me, me. I miss the days where I could do my climbing, and have third parties make the media. It feels healthier. I don’t want to be a person who you might meet in life and think, “they’re cool” but then think they’re an annoying narcissist based on their social media. As best I can, I try to be who I am at all times. I don’t want to live behind a fake online persona. I don’t want people to be my friends because they think I’m popular and I don’t want to climb with people just because they're popular. I want to climb and hang out with people that I think are good people. Being a good climber doesn’t make you a good person.

I met my now wife, Melissa Rudick, when I moved back to New Mexico. She had been living in Yosemite and Santa Cruz, and had also just moved back to the state. She had become involved in rope access due to the financial benefits and free time the job offers. She convinced me to get certified as well. From there we took on rope access jobs together and then we got involved in the training and certification process and we spent a few years managing an IRATA training center which was founded by our friend Connor Turley and his company Altius.

It was a great time. In 2014 we moved to Austin, Texas to be closer to the main training center in Houston. Austin has some fantastic limestone, music and food. It’s a really vibrant city. It turned out that I was really well suited to the climbing there and in this period I did some of my hardest climbing to date. The highlight was my first ascent of M.e. i eat dust, which might be a 9a+. I’m sure Jonathan Siegrist will repeat it this winter and let us know where it falls. I also did an 8b+ flash. It’s called, Blood red and going down.

In 2018 a unique opportunity to move to Europe presented itself. Vertical-Life was looking for native English speakers to help with sales, copyrighting and client services. I had moved to supervising rope access work in the field. I was supporting an inspection project in Alaska. I was responsible for creating safe access systems and being the stand-by rescue for the inspectors. I would work four weeks at a time, 7 days a week followed by four weeks of vacation. We would work in conditions up to -30C in total darkness in winter. It was a bit like being on an expedition at times.

I enjoyed Alaska, but I couldn’t turn down the chance to move to Italy and take on this new career challenge that we were both being offered. Melissa and I both have so much love and appreciation for Italy. The people, the landscapes, the food and climbing; we have deep respect for this place.

We’ve been in Italy now for almost three years. We spent the first two in Bressanone, and now we live just a little bit south, in Arco. We hope to become permanent residents and one day citizens. We appreciate every day that we get to live, work and climb here.

Living right in Arco has definitely helped my climbing resurge over the past year. I’ve always managed climbing with some form of working. I’ve never had the luxury of just climbing, but my current role is a bit different in that I work a more standard desk job. My previous jobs tended to be project work for the most part.

I try to climb three days a week, sometimes I manage four and sometimes only two. I hangboard and do different coordination exercises on the side. In the winter I also use a rowing machine and do a little bit of running. This spring and summer I also started kayaking and SUP paddling on both lakes and rivers. I think that paddling has the potential to be a really nice compliment to climbing.

Before climbing Pure Dreaming, I think I had done 9 other climbs around 8c and harder in the Arco area over this past year. Reini’s Vibes was much harder for me, which is why I claimed Pure Dreaming as 8c+ and not 9a. It’s just my appraisal based on how I interpret the established neighboring real estate. Like my grandma wisely said about opinions and assholes, everyone has one. It’s okay to disagree with me.

On the subject of downgrading, I think it’s probably better described as grade refining. I think it’s completely normal and natural for climbs to get easier as more people try them and refine sequences. There’s no shame in putting a grade out there and being off by one grade. You shouldn’t feel too humble and righteous if you repeat a climb and bring it down a notch and you shouldn’t feel like shit or be dismissed if you do a first ascent and grade one or so higher than what the consensus becomes.

When it comes to my life and climbing, there’s this line from Mike Ehrmentraut, my favorite character, in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul that I think perfectly sums it up: “We all make choices. And those choices, they put us on a road. Sometimes those choices seem small, but they put us on the road. You think about getting off but you’re right back on it.” 

 Text and pics Cody Roth


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