Cypher Ambassador - Brendan Leader
Home sweet home for me is smack dab in the center of one of the largest sport climbing destinations in the world, the Red River Gorge, Kentucky. I grew up in Tennessee, just a few hours to the south, however, I arrived in Kentucky in quite a roundabout way. I started climbing in college in North Carolina but my love for the sport truly took off when I moved to Brisbane, Australia to pursue my degree. By the time I graduated, climbing was the only thing on my mind so I took off on a round the world climbing trip to find the most badass place in the world to live and climb. A year turned into two and my bank account turned into an empty bucket so I found myself back in Tennessee looking for work. One fine weekend, I took a trip up to the Red River Gorge, a place I had never climbed even though I grew up so close. I never left. That was more than 7 years ago. I guess I just had to travel clear across the world to realize my heart belongs to the rolling hollows and hills of the Southeast where I grew up.
What was your first experience climbing?
My first climbing experience should surely be published in a book all about what not to do rock climbing. A buddy and I decided we wanted to go climbing so we scrounged up a bunch of trad gear from used gear stores, the university outdoors club and some random buddies. I kid you not, we went to the library and found one of those books titled ‘How to Rock Climb’, or something like that. We messed around at the base of the cliff looking at pictures in the book and placing cams and nuts here and there. Then off we went. Well I made it up to a set of anchors, somehow, belayed my buddy up as we’d seen in the book, and then we realized we did not have a long enough rope to get down. So there we sat for a couple of hours until some stray climbers came by and saved us. That was pretty much the course of my first couple of years of climbing.
What is your favorite type of climbing?
Sport climbing! I dabble in bouldering and trad from time to time. I started out as a trad climber for years before clipping a bolt, but I got a little carried away in that discipline and got a good smack down from the gods of climbing. Now my psych feeds on executing hard moves on a rope… and not hitting the ground.
Any style of climbing that you particularly dislike?
I have a love/hate relationship with slab climbing. Stepping out of my comfort zone and getting shut down is fun and challenges me to develop different skills, but the next day my toes are raw, my calves are sore and if I got unlucky my knees are shredded from cheese grater whips.
Where are your favorite areas to climb?
Considering I moved to within a ten minute drive of some of the most recognizable sport cliffs in the world, such as the Motherlode, in the Red River Gorge, I’d say that puts the RRG at the top of my list. Further afield, I reckon the whole of Spain takes the cake on quality, quantity and diversity of sport climbing stone. Waterval Boven in South Africa ranks in my top of the top list as do The Blue Mountains in Australia.
Tell us about your all-time favorite climb
Just one? That’s a tall order. I guess one that stands out in my mind from recent years is a 13c line called Paideia in Rodellar, Spain. My forte is most definitely not the mega long endurance pitches (yes I know I live in the Red), but rather, shorter sustained climbs. Paideia stretches an uncut 80 meter rope to get you back to the ground. Why I chose that line I can’t imagine. But I will never forget the moment of arriving at the final redpoint crux, a stab to a two finger pocket at the 38 meter mark with the anchors in my face. I fumbled one finger leaving me with a mono and a hell of a lot of screaming but stuck with it and clipped the chains. Haven’t climbed anything that long since.
Why do you climb?
I tie in and leave the ground for me. On the wall everything else drops away. The world goes silent. I don’t think about my to-do list, my worries or the drama that life sometimes brings. When I am climbing all that matters is the present; nothing exists except the here and now. The unencumbered purity of those moments is why I climb. As to why I choose to live the climbing lifestyle… all that plus more. The lifestyle draws me for the simplicity, the people I meet, spending time with the people I care for and travelling the world finding new places and experiences.
What other hobbies/interests or passions do you have?
I am a country boy at heart so when I’m not climbing you’re liable to find me hunting or fishing in the woods, riding my four wheeler, tearing things up on my tractor or building something around my property like a new addition to my climbing gym. I am also a super nerd for photography and videography and spend a lot of time shooting and editing climbing media.
Which 3 emojis describe you best?
What’s an emoji? Is that a kind of fruit? Sounds tasty.
What or who inspires you?
The most psyched, positive person at the crag is who inspires me. It couldn’t matter to me less what grade or route this person is on but whoever is out there trying their hardest and having a blast with it is my hero for the day. That’s what it’s all about. We all have bad days, but the person who can leave that in the car and show up to the crag with a smile and a yeehaw try hard attitude is the one who’s doing it right, the one I want to emulate.
Tell us about your dream vacation
My dream vacation is whatever my next climbing trip is. I’m not a fan of just dreaming of this vacation or that. When I get psyched on a trip idea, I tend to just do it, consequences be damned. I’ve been lucky to climb in something like 15 countries around the world and I’m just getting started.So my dream vacation? Wherever I am right now.
Favorite post-send meal
Big juicy hamburger followed by a Double-stuff Butterfinger Blizzard.
What are your long-term climbing goals?
To be climbing long-term! My goal is to be that weird eccentric 80 year-old dude warming up on your project. Second to that, I’ve always had this ‘trifecta of sendage’ goal since I started climbing… 5.14 redpoint, 5.13 onsight, 5.13 trad. As of right now, I’m one letter grade off of each of those goals. Guess with a little try hard it’ll be time to rewrite my goals.
“Have fun, try hard, SMILE!”