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Pete Takeda: Marmot's Longest-Sponsored Athlete Takes Climbing to New Heights

8/27/17 by Emma Walker

Talk to a climber, and chances are they’ll be eager to tell you just what kind of climber they are—whether they boulder, clip bolts, plug gear, swing ice tools, haul gear up big walls, or do light-and-fast alpine ascents. Each genre has its own set of rules and code of ethics, and requires specific skills and knowledge.

Marmot-sponsored athlete Pete Takeda has done all of these—and done them well. Among his proudest accomplishments, Takeda lists a redpoint of a demanding sport route in Rifle, his first ascent of one of first mixed routes in the world graded M9, and alpine climbs in Alaska and the Himalayas. He spent six seasons climbing in Yosemite, where he earned the nickname "Big Wall Pete."

Although his colorful resume would seem to leave time for little else, Takeda, who’s based in Boulder, is also an accomplished writer, with three published books and bylines in just about every adventure vertical on the market.

"For me, climbing has been a progression from bouldering through cragging to big walls, ice/mixed, and on to alpinism," Takeda explains. “I started with what was available in my backyard and moved onward.”

Takeda’s entry into the climbing world came early. He grew up in a subdivision of Boise, Idaho, which was then a "sleepy little town." From his home in the foothills, Takeda saw rocks everywhere.

"They were always part of the landscape, part of the skyline, occupying a space in my head," he says. “I would say that if anyone was born to climb, it was me.”

With such an accomplished background, it’s no surprise that Takeda represents a versatile, well-rounded brand like Marmot. In fact, with 25 years on the team, he’s the longest-standing Marmot athlete—by a long shot. He came on informally as its first sponsored athlete in 1992, then signed his first contract in 1995.

Takeda is Marmot’s longest-standing sponsored athlete.
    Photo courtesy of Pete Takeda
Takeda is Marmot’s longest-standing sponsored athlete. Photo courtesy of Pete Takeda

A quarter-century after his relationship with the company began, it’s safe to say Takeda knows the brand as well as anyone.

"Innovation is coded into Marmot’s DNA," he says. And not just in terms of making a wide range of quality equipment, Takeda points out, but also in supporting a wide range of cutting-edge endeavors.

One such project was the live Marmot-supported coverage of Takeda’s 2001 attempt on the Shark Fin route of Meru, a 21,000-foot Indian Himalayan peak that’s notoriously difficult to summit. A decade before climbers Conrad Anker, Renan Ozturk, and Jimmy Chin finally completed the ambitious route (it’s since become the subject of an award-winning feature-length documentary), Takeda and partner Dave Sheldon made several more attempts on Meru, via the Shark’s Fin in 1998 and 1999, and in 2001, again via the Shark’s Fin and, when that didn’t pan out, by an alternate route.

With support from Marmot, Takeda and Sheldon created some of the first episodic film content of their attempt. Footage from their 2001 climb was broadcast "live as can be" online, helping forge the path for the way adventurers document their big expeditions today.

Takeda has also used writing to document his adventures, along with the people he’s met and the places he’s visited. His first writing assignment came not just because he was in the right place at the right time, but also because of his characteristic tenacity and forthright approach.

"I was a climber in Yosemite," Takeda recalls, laughing that the Camp 4 scene was, in those days, “a real backwater—it wasn’t yet the hip place to go climbing. Yosemite was the place to be a climber in the 1960s through the mid-1980s. When I lived there, it was a backwater. Now it’s the place again.

"So I called up Climbing magazine from a payphone in the dorm I was living in," he remembers. “I was like, ‘Look, you’re not covering any of this stuff.’” Takeda didn’t expect much of a response, but the editor he spoke with prompted him to start writing about it.

Takeda navigates sketchy alpine terrain in the Cordillera Blanca range of the Peruvian Andes.
Takeda navigates sketchy alpine terrain in the Cordillera Blanca range of the Peruvian Andes. Mick Follari

Since then, Takeda’s written for all the big outdoor magazines—Alpinist, Outside, Rock and Ice, Men’s Journal—and has published three books: a collection of his columns for Climbing titled Pete’s Wicked Book (Mountaineers Books, 2000), National Geographic’s Climb! (2002), and An Eye at the Top of the World (2007), which is part expedition account, part thrilling mystery.

There’s been talk of turning the latter book into a feature film, which opened the door to Hollywood. As a result, Takeda has expanded his writing repertoire to working on scripts and documentaries.

Ask Takeda about his writing, and it’s obvious he reads as much as he writes. His knowledge of the canon of climbing literature is as deep and varied as his command of climbing itself.

"I don’t really look at writing as being cathartic," Takeda explains, once again bucking a cliché often assigned to climbers and writers. “I never read anything I’ve written again once it’s published, because I know I’m not going to like it.”

Being both a climber and a writer is central to the way Takeda tells stories. "It’s hard to participate in one aspect and fully give yourself to that thing," he says. “It shows in your work when you become a participant rather than an observer.” His explanation of his writing and climbing progression is sprinkled with quotes from Jon Krakauer, Greg Child, Cormac McCarthy, and Ernest Hemingway.

Takeda high on Chacraraju, a notoriously difficult peak in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca range.
Takeda high on Chacraraju, a notoriously difficult peak in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca range. Mick Follari

Whether he’s writing or climbing, Takeda’s spending as much time as possible these days in some of his favorite places, including Vedauwoo, Wyoming, home of otherworldly rock formations and heinous off-widths.

"What makes somewhere like Vedauwoo a great climbing area is the aesthetic—the form, shape, color of the crags, and the singular lines that draw the eye," he says. “What makes it meaningful is what it demands from you.”

A place like Vedauwoo also requires humility, he says, pointing out that "you can’t show up and get your grade ticket punched." Even with such impressive climbing, writing, and filmmaking chops, Takeda remains humble, which he insists is critical. Of his demanding alpine climbs, he says, “What you’ve mastered makes you shine and defines what’s possible.”

It’s what you haven’t learned, Takeda says, that limits you—or worse. "It also reflects the evolution of a climber as a human, not just an accomplished athlete or technician," he adds. “Alpinism is as much about temperament as it is ability.”

Takeda’s latest book project, which is in current negotiations, is another intersection of climbing and writing. The book will be an behind-the-scenes commentary on climbing; an exploration of the places he’s traveled and the beauty he’s found there; and "a mix of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and all things climbing."

In other words: "I’ve given my life to climbing, and this is my story."

For more on Takeda and his projects, find him on Instagram @pete_takeda.

Originally written by RootsRated for Marmot.