Canadian climber Read Macadam moved to Oman over ten years ago, and is now known as one of the best climbers in the Middle East; seeking out and establishing the most difficult routes on the Arabian Peninsula. We caught up with him to chat about his new adopted home, his further talents as a life coach and his recent fantastic short film, ‘Valley of Giants.’
Read climbing at Hadash in Oman during a recent project. Photo: James Bringas.
So as a professional climber and life coach, it could be said that you are living the dream! How did you end up where you are today? Was it a difficult journey to turn your passion into your career?
Well, it certainly is one dream! It took a lot of soul searching to decide to leave a comfortable pay cheque to go out on my own. My biggest learning after making the transformation is that I work better with a single focus. After trying to stay in the same job and also branch out, I realised that I need to cut the half-measure approach and go all in. It was that time that I began to certify as a life coach, which challenged me to go for it and step into the future. It’s a decision that has allowed me to build my life around climbing and what drives me. For sure I have to hustle to keep the ball rolling, but it also means I get to wear many different hats and exercise different creative parts of myself that I otherwise wouldn’t have, which I find very rewarding.
What is it about climbing that you find keeps you motivated and coming back for more?
I often say, climbing is therapy. I can go there as an escape or as a recharge station. With all of life’s distractions I find it so important to get out of my head and into my body.
What motivates me the most nowadays is seeking out and establishing new lines. I am so in love with the whole process from searching and imagining the line to discovering new sequences, putting it all together and hopefully it’s hard and it makes me change my life in order to climb it. There are so many great life lessons wrapped up in that process and I find it so addictive.
The boulders in Valley of Giants are uniquely sculpted by eons of flash flooding. Dan Bates climbing another classic. Photo: Read Macadam
Did you have any inspirations growing up, in the climbing world or otherwise?
My very first climbing inspiration came from my uncle, Bill Betts. He climbed a lot, had a Bachar ladder in his yard; the fact that I could swing like a monkey from his forearm made him and climbing seem so cool. He took me on my first climbing experience, which was in the Smoke Bluffs of Squamish, BC when I was about seven years old. I top-roped some 5.7s wearing my aunt’s Boreal Aces, which were way too big – the old black shoes with clubs, spades, diamonds and hearts in fluorescent green. I still remember the smell. Man, I was hooked.
Before climbing I didn’t really feel strong tug toward any of the other activities I was participating in, especially the team sports. I loved to be the master of my own outcome. I love skiing and mountain biking, but when I found climbing I knew it would be something that I could not live without.
I started to take climbing seriously at 12 years old. Growing up in North Vancouver as a gym rat I had amazing coaches and mentors in Andrew Wilson and Mike Doyle. Andrew created a home for a very disparate group of youth and figured out how to motivate us and, more importantly, taught me how to motivate myself. He turned me into a climber for life. Mike, I have always admired for his ability to juggle his professional ambitions with his climbing life. Mike has a successful career and has been climbing 5.14 for over twenty years so I still do!
When I look back through my life I can see the thread of positive direction always had rock climbing at its core. I feel very fortunate for all of the people, the places and the experiences that I have encountered through climbing.
Read sharing the tools of the trade with Umq Bir local, Nasser. Photo: Philippe Ribière.
Are your two careers as a life coach and a climber linked together in some way? Do you find that living such an interesting and adventurous life can help support and motivate others?
That is a great question. Well, coaching and consulting pays the bills, but I draw a lot of inspiration from climbing for my coaching and consulting work. Climbing has taught me so many great life lessons that I relay through my coaching and team development work – failure, focus, risk management, strategy…the list is huge.
Despite being well into my thirties I look very young, which leads some clients or potential clients to wonder, “how on earth this ‘youth’ will be able to help me? You can’t have the experience necessary at your age.” I’ve heard it all. Aside from the hundreds of hours of training and then the certification processes that have gone into being a professional coach, I draw on my experiences climbing to give me the gumption to ‘run it out’ and let my actions speak for themselves.
Like approaching a new climb. I’ve never done that particular climb so I don’t have the exact experience, but I have tonnes of experience and training that will allow me to climb it. I always think, “what is scarier: stepping into a boardroom full of execs expecting something WOW or being 30ft above marginal gear in remote Oman?” I will certainly be able to walk away from one of those scenarios.
How did you end up basing yourself in Oman? Have you encountered any difficulties with the change of culture and way of life?
I first entered Arabia into Dubai after finishing university in Canada where I grew up. I lived in Dubai for two years and Oman was that place we spent on weekends for the mountains, nature, adventure – it was like my escape from perpetual city-life of the emirates. In the end, it was natural progression to just move here. Like anywhere, it has its rewards and its challenges, but I like the Omani culture, pace of life and the people so now I feel totally comfortable here. Arabic hospitality is alive and well in these parts. Sometimes I turn off my usual tunes and put on some AM radio to remind me how exotic this place is compared to where I came from. I love it.
Your short film ‘Valley of Giants’ is a great insight into bouldering and traveling in Oman. What was the inspiration behind the film?
When I first visited the Valley of Giants with my buddy Unio Joubert I immediately knew it was something I wanted to dedicate more than just a single trip. The potential is staggering and the landscape screams to be seen – it is truly awe inspiring to walk around the hill and see the abandoned village below.
I was hanging out with Philippe and Dan a lot on the Petzl Roctrip the year prior. I had hinted to those guys that Oman is worth a visit and with the support of Traks Pro – my main sponsor – I made it happen in winter 2015. The film morphed along the way. I brought Miguel Willis on board to film from the outset and together we created a storyboard for a few short episodes, but as the trip went on it was apparent that it had its own story so we then focused on more of documenting the daily struggles and letting the landscape be the centre of attention. The local boys in the canyon were perhaps the turning point. Each morning we each had a plan for which blocks to brush, which projects we were psyched to try and which to film, but the kids inevitably came to join us and time just flew away! In the end they reminded us why we were there – to play and to explore and share in a new culture. I hope I managed to share that through the edit.
Besides Oman, where else have you spent time climbing? Where would you go that you haven’t been yet?
I really enjoy travelling to climb. My list of desired projects and destinations is too long, but because I have to continually equip myself new projects, I don’t get a chance to onsight climb very often so I am usually motivated by trips spent onsighting like crazy.
Long ago in 2007 I spent about six months on the road climbing across Asia and finished that with two months in Greece.
The past few years I have spent summer in Italy and France exploring some classic areas and I definitely need to get back for more. I was fortunate to travel along with the whole Petzl Roctrip in 2014 through the Balkans and into Turkey, too, which was super motivating to meet such different local communities along the way.
Now, living in Oman, I feel there is so much to share from this region. That image of towers in the desert has been plaguing me lately so I’m working on a project for next winter to realise the vision
Oman based Larry Michienzi joined Miguel and Read on a return trip to the wadi after the filming trips. Some of the boulders are so big that they require a rope to climb safely. Here he is enjoying the original bolted line on one of the massive boulders in the Valley of Giants. Photo: Read Macadam
What projects or adventures have you got lined up for 2016?
In the coming year I have my sights set on a relatively untouched area elsewhere in Arabia and another trad expedition in the south of Oman. I also have a trip to Canada to do. Family time mixed with some project ideas in the Rockies that I have been talking about with my good friends Josh Muller and Regan Kennedy. I grew up in the west of Canada but never climbed east of Skaha, BC so now I have a lot of catching up to do in the Canmore area. So much to do!
I always have a sport project in the works back home in Oman. This region is incredible in the quantity and variety of climbing yet to be developed. There is no lack of projects, just lack of available partners!
Check out Read’s film Valley of Giants here: http://www.valleyofgiantsfilm.com/