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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Burns

Adventure Capitalist: Big Wall Climbing, The Modern Investor’s Pathway to Success

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

We were a couple hundred feet up on Dinner Ledge. As usual, I was awake near sunrise savoring my two cups of coffee and watching the clouds roll across the valley floor. I was extremely grateful for the solitude that morning. The weather forecast had predicted a 60% chance of thunderstorms the entire week, leaving Yosemite Valley relatively empty and Washington Column all to ourselves.

Well aware that we may be spending three days stuck under a shelter, we went into our final big wall training days with a sense of adventure. “It will be good training for Patagonia” we convinced ourselves. We decided to leave the portaledge behind and haul up a three person tent. If all else failed we would spend 3 days watching Netflix. We would be big wall “glamping”.

Our weather window was short on Day 2. We had time for 2 pitches before the rain came. We started to gear up and Marc looked over at me. “You have 30 seconds to set up your system. I will watch you and I will time you."

Big Wall Climbing: How its Training Me to Be a Successful Investor

Your hobbies and your passions in life are no less important than what you do for work. The skills we build through our passions are absolutely transferable and should be recognized as such. One should never discredit the importance of their passions. Those around us should support us to build skill sets in various activities and encourage our physical, mental, and emotional health as much as building our “professional” skills.

Rock climbing and investing are both passions of mine. I truly believe that the work I put into one helps me achieve success in the other. In the last year, I have started to climb big walls and I have started to invest in early stage companies. The skills I built while training for Yosemite have helped me transition into my life as an angel investor. Being an investor requires you to build networks, immerse in new cultures, and stay vigilant to new opportunities. It requires you to seek out experts for mentorship, guidance, and coaching and you must continuously build new skills and work hard. Learning to big wall climb requires all of these same skills.


I have dreamed of sleeping on a portaledge on the side of a rock face ever since I started climbing. As soon as I learned that I would be climbing a Yosemite big wall I accelerated into full training mode. I bought a big wall climbing book, started a YouTube binge, signed up for a climbing training program, joined the Big Wall Climbing Facebook group, and started to look for new climbing partners. I spent the next six months learning new systems and practicing how to jumar.

The first day of training in Yosemite Marc took me to an overhanging bolted boulder and all of the prior methods that I had practiced over the last six months were either refined or thrown out the window. We went over 3 rope ascension methods and he made me run drills on all of them. Each drill I had to repeat 3 times and each time I was required to explain the mechanics of the systems or the equipment.

After we had a practice day on the ground, we packed the haul bags and headed out for a night on Leaning Tower. We would have less than 24 hours until the rain came so we knew we would not be sending the entire route. Instead, we would spend our limited time doing drills. It was a great wall to practice traversing and lowering out. The first day we hiked up to the base of the wall, attached our microtractions and jumars to the fixed hanging rope, and started ascending. Hundreds of feet later we arrived to the tiny ledge where we would spend the night.

Building Networks

Climbing thousands of feet over multiple days requires an elevated level of planning and an advanced skill set. Finding the people within my community that did it, or who wanted to do it, was the only way I was going to learn. One morning I was doing abdominal exercises in the gym and out of the corner of my eye I saw someone practicing aid climbing skills. Right away I ran across the gym and shouted “are you planning a trip to Yosemite!?” After his partnered lowered him to the ground, we exchanged trip plans and phone numbers. Over the next 6 months Jeff and I would regularly meet to practice skills and aid climb in Index.

Big wall aid climbing is a very niche style of climbing. In general, I wouldn’t categorize it as super “fun”. It’s work. Some compare it to manual labor. Many times you are waiting hours at the belay while your partner leads the climb. You are hauling significant amounts of weight up the wall after each pitch and as the follower you using mechanical devices rather than your hands to ascend the wall. It’s a completely different style of climbing. The complexity and the reduced level of pure fun keeps the numbers of aid climbers to a minimum. Therefore, finding mentorship and partners who want to practice these skills requires building a new network.

Just as with big wall climbing, networking is a critical skill for investors. It is the baseline for accessing deals, building trust with lead investors, and connecting with founders. As a new angel investor in Seattle, I have spent a lot of time recently meeting peers for coffee, attending workshops, connecting with people on LinkedIn, and participating in two different investor programs. I have even been able to leverage my climbing community connections to expand my angel network. The approach that I used to build my big wall network is the same approach that I have been using to connect with investors and founders: immerse myself completely in the culture, ask for referrals, step outside my comfort zone, and spend as much time as possible with the people that will help me excel.

Seek Out Experts to Build New Skills

Big wall climbing requires an advanced level of skills and a very solid understanding of climbing systems. Just like angel investing, the risk is high but can be mitigated through expertise and training. Seeking out people who are more knowledgeable than you and who want to help you learn new skills is extremely important.

I have been very lucky throughout my entire rock climbing journey to connect with some badass climbing partners. When the time came to search for big wall partners in Seattle, there was one person I knew that I needed to contact. I messaged Andrew on Facebook and I asked him “can you teach me everything you know?” We went to the Mountaineers Wall to practice skills and we started climbing in the gym together on the weekends. I asked him questions and elicited stories. I wanted to learn as much of the lingo as possible. Outside of Seattle, I am extremely grateful to be coached by a highly trained alpinist and professional mountain guide. As someone who struggles a lot with physics and mechanical systems, I require a considerable amount of repetition to learn new systems. Marc has been monumental in teaching me new skills and helping me dream big about future climbing objectives. Though I know he can sometimes become very frustrated with my inability to understand a system or a sequence on the first, second, or third try he is very patient and challenges me to figure it out on my own.

As a new investor, reviewing a company’s financials can be intimidating. Learning to analyze Cap Tables, understanding the financials of the market, and comprehending various accounting principals can require a completely new skill set. I have approached overcoming these challenges just as I have with big wall climbing. I have enrolled in two investor programs to gain hard skills and to connect with a new network of people with whom I can collaborate. I regularly meet for coffee with peers working in the financial sector or who are themselves angel investors. I ask them to help me better understand various financial formulas and to write them out so that I can better compartmentalize the different pieces. I review pitch decks and Cap Tables with people who have more experience than I do. Most importantly though I share my goals with these people and I ask them to help me build the skills I need to become a successful investor.

Looking Forward, Dreaming Big

Many of the partnerships that develop over our climbing and investing careers are long lasting. The networks we build and the mentors we acquire along the way enable us to take on bigger risks and accomplish bigger challenges. My current journey is about the skills and the relationships that I am building rather than the sends and the exits. The training I do on one wall, or the small investment that I make in a company, is just one more building block for the next big adventure.

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