10 Essential Questions: Yinan Zhao, Climb Leader

Each week, The Mountaineers interview a member of our outdoor community to ask 10 Essential Questions. This week, we spoke with Yinan Zhao, a climb instructor who came to America from China with big dreams of conquering Mountains.
Kristina Ciari Tursi Kristina Ciari Tursi
Membership & Communications Director
December 13, 2013
10 Essential Questions: Yinan Zhao, Climb Leader
Yinan Zhao, Member Since 2007

Each week, The Mountaineers interview a member of our outdoor community to ask 10 Essential Questions. This week, we spoke with Yinan Zhao, a climb instructor who came to America from China with big dreams of conquering Mountains. 

Why did you start climbing? What or who attracted you to the sport?

When I was in China, I had many friends who climbed snowy mountains in west China. They were student climbers that got their mountaineering funding from their college. For that reason, I couldn’t join them and couldn’t find other ways to start mountaineering. But I hoped for a chance to climb in the future. Years later, I came to America and found snow peaks so close to civilization (compared with China). It wasn’t simply a dream to climb mountains. Seven years ago, I moved to the Seattle area and found The Mountaineers to help me start chasing my dream. With The Mountaineers, I discovered another kind of climbing – rock climbing – and fell in love with the sport. I love it because I found that women can do it well; sometimes, even better than men because we often climb with grace and elegance.

What was your most memorable climbing trip? Why?

In August 2010, I climbed Eldorado Peak, an ice climb. It was my most memorable climb because on our way out with just 100 yards left to trail head, I fell and broke my ankle. It took more than one year to recover. It was a challenging time, both physically and mentally. I learned a big lesson. I spent most of the recovery time thinking a lot about how to be a better climber, how to deal with my own weaknesses and how to make the right decisions.

How much time week do you dedicate to climbing?

I usually spend two to three weeknights in the rock-climbing gym. During climbing season, I spend my weekends climbing. In the off-season, I usually do physical conditioning on local hills/trails or instruct climbing courses for The Mountaineers on weekends. I volunteer as an instructor for the Basic Alpine Climbing and Intermediate Climbing courses; Sport Climbing and Crag courses; Intro to Aid and Big Wall course as well as entry-level seminars and workshops.

Why is climbing important to you? Why do you like it?

I like climbing because it was my dream and it has come true. It’s important to me because it makes me stronger both physically and mentally.

Besides physical fitness, how does it benefit you?

Climbing gives me confidence, makes me more careful, helps me work on teamwork and develops my leadership ability.

Do you climb with mostly men? In general, are there more male climbers than females?

There are female climbers, but in general I find more male than female climbers. I’m happy to climb with both men and women though. Actually, among climbers there are many strong ladies and careful guys. I have learned a lot from all of them.

Have you had any discouragements? How did you deal with them?

From time to time, I’m discouraged by my physical disadvantage compared with male climbers. I have to face it since I usually climb with guys. To keep up, I train hard to achieve a higher level of physical fitness and use lighter gear to help me to move faster. Also, when I choose climbs I research the difficulty level to assess how strenuous a climb will be and to make sure that I’m competent enough to maintain an appropriate pace to complete the climb.

Do you have any advice for newbies?

There are different levels of climbing and you can always find one that fits you. I achieved my dream through courses with The Mountaineers. The organization maintains a tradition of volunteer-led education. My instructors were highly-skilled volunteers that gave their time to share their passion and teach me the skills I would need to climb glaciated mountains as well as rock faces. They served as my mentors and inspired me to give back and do the same for people interested in learning the necessary skills to be safe in the mountains.

Newbies will find The Mountaineers offers entry level courses for rock climbing, glacier climbing and bouldering.  They will also find a community of like-minded people and come across opportunities to build lifelong friendships – like I did!

It’s hard work, but really fun – take your time, take it easy, enjoy and have fun!


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Hannah Wendel
Hannah Wendel says:
Dec 13, 2013 11:20 AM

awesommmmee dude

Tucker Stokes
Tucker Stokes says:
Jan 10, 2014 01:55 PM

What an inspiring story. I look forward to more of these.