Climber For Life

Eric Hörst is a family-man, author and climber.

By Evan Moore and Jonathan Vickers | 05/04/2010

“A Climber for Life”

Pristine sandstone makes up much of the topography of West Virginia’s New River Gorge making it a challenging arena for climbers. In the 1980s, Eric Hörst hung by no more than his finger tips and made the long move required to be the first ascentionist of Diamond Life, a 60 foot, nearly featureless section of sandstone found in the New.

“I was very nervous,” admitted Hörst, “We knew it was the hardest route at the New, which added to the anxiety.”

After discovering Diamond Life in March of 1987, Hörst worked the climb on weekends until he finally climbed it without falling in late October. Many climbs of similar or greater difficulty have been done in the New since Diamond Life, but Hörst’s first ascent opened the door for harder ascents, which have attracted skilled climbers from around the world to the New.

“It was a proud moment,” recalled Hörst, “It gives you a new step to build on.”

More than 20 years later, Hörst has released his 7th climbing book, Maximum Climbing, which came out in April. Maximum Climbing is a comprehensive guide to the mental aspects of climbing, ranging from how the mind controls physical movement to how a climber can control fear and improve concentration. The book is intended to help climbers maximize their climbing experience.

“Climbing more than anything else is a mental activity,” explained Hörst, “The book covers many different aspects of climbing that are in some way controlled by the brain, whether it is fine motor control of your muscles or the power that your muscle generates. It all begins in your brain; your thoughts, your fears, your focus and your ability to relax… What thoughts you think lead to your actions and your reactions.”

At age 13, Hörst started climbing in his hometown and current residence of Lancaster, PA. Though Hörst was active in a variety of traditional sports, climbing captured Hörst in a way those sports could not. After reading John Gill’s (the father of climbing training) biography, Master of Rock, Hörst joined the high school gymnastics team and started training specifically for climbing with fellow climbers, Jeff Batzer and Hugh Herr.

“John Gill, who was a very famous boulderer back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, for my generation, was one of our idols, and he was the first climber to really train intensively,” said Hörst, “He did so by using gymnastics apparati [sic] like the gymnastics rings.”

Climbing primarily in the East, Hörst started in high school at the Shawangunks in New York and Seneca Rocks in West Virginia. In 1986 Hörst was introduced to the area that would later become the location for many of his first accents, the New River Gorge.

“The New is certainly my favorite area (to climb),” explained Hörst, “It is most like home…That rock was just made for climbing.”

Hörst who has been responsible for over 450 first accents throughout the country and over 200 in the New River Gorge, including Diamond Life (5.13a), believes a balanced life is important to maximizing one’s climbing experience and being what he calls “a climber for life.” He encourages people to maintain a life outside of climbing.

“I think I’ve experienced more and maybe had a richer life up to this point by being involved in some other things,” said Hörst.

Hörst realizes that as he ages climbing at such a high level may not always be possible, and he is involved in the climbing community in a variety of ways. An adjunct faculty member at Millersville University, Hörst is also a consultant for Nicros, Inc., a producer of climbing walls and training products. He writes magazine articles, speaks publicly, records podcasts, shoots climbing and fitness photographs in addition to his self-development books, and he has been a climbing coach.

“My climbing books have been distributed and read by climbers in over 50 countries around the world. It’s become a wild thing that my ideas that are born hear in the climbing gym or on the crags in Pennsylvania or West Virginia have spread to climbers on five different continents,” said Hörst.

Even with his busy schedule, the author spends a lot of time with his wife, Lisa Ann (an LPGA golf pro and climber) and sons, Cameron and Jonathan. The family travels to a variety of climbing locations around the country throughout the year, but Hörst and Lisa Ann maintain that the boys should have a balance. Therefore, Cameron and Jonathan participate in a variety of activities and sports, including basketball and skiing.

“I have two young boys who have grown up climbing here in the climbing gym at home. . . At the tender age of nine and seven, they have already climbed at dozens of areas around the country,” explained Hörst, “It’s really fun to see them take up something that I have been so passionate about all my life, and it’s a really tremendous family activity.”

Hörst has had a life full of climbing and seems to still have a life of climbing ahead of him. Through his publications and coaching, Hörst has spread his messages to climbers around the world and now passes his knowledge and passion onto his kids. Whether establishing climbs, writing, speaking, coaching or climbing with his family, Hörst has been able to pursue his passion and remain an influential figure in the climbing community.

  • Climb for Life
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    Eric Hörst, renowned climber and author, explains his personal development as a climber and a father.

    RUN-TIME 3:12

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    Check out the photo gallery for this story.

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