Mountaineer Rick Ridgeway spent five decades traveling to uncharted regions, conquering the world’s most treacherous mountains, sometimes before anyone else. Here are his keys to achieving peak performance. — As told to Charles Thorp
I’ve always had a passion for books, and I’ve been a big reader since I was a boy. It’s had a profound effect on my life on multiple occasions and initially inspired me to become a climber. I read a National Geographic story about the first American to climb Mount Everest and wanted to be like him. That guy was Jim Whittaker, and little did I know he’d be the leader of our first American ascent of K2 in ’78. It was around the time of my own K2 ascent when another book came out called The Snow Leopard. The naturalist George Schaller, who’s the main character, become my mentor and one of my best friends. I set up an expedition with Galen Rowell, Conrad Anker, and Jimmy Chin to find the birthing ground of the chiru, an endangered Tibetan antelope, to supported George’s research and help protect the animal. It was the most meaningful trip of my life. My home has a room where I’m completely surrounded by books, including the first one I bought when learning to climb called Freedom of the Hills. That room is one of my favorite places to be.
Redefine Peak Condition
I don’t remember any of my friends who were climbing back in the ‘60s or ‘70s ever going to a gym. None of us had a training regimen. We just climbed all the time and went on long hikes to get to the mountains before expeditions. The on-foot approaches to the landmark climbs people are familiar with were a lot longer than they are now. That was our bootcamp experience for whatever mountain we were climbing, whether it was hiking from Kathmandu to Everest or up to K2. I did start going into the gym in the ‘80s, but never doing anything too crazy. I learned the benefit of doing low weight with high repetition to keep the lean mass I needed. I do that about three times a week these days. I always valued fitness, even as a teenager. I got in shape in high school and never fell out of it. I weigh exactly the same as I did back then, 157 pounds. I know to some it may sound like a brag, but I’m proud of that fact. That commitment to physical health is one that’s served me well over the years.
I got in shape in high school and never fell out of it.
Better to Bend Than Break
Over 20 years ago, my hips were making problems for me, and causing a terrible amount of discomfort. It was only getting worse over time. They were getting so bad I was having trouble sleeping because of the pain. I met with a doctor who tried to advise me to get a hip transplant while I was still “young and strong,” in his words. I was in my 50s at the time. I was still worried about what the recovery and complications could be. That’s when I discovered yoga through Yvon Chouinard. Shortly after that I met Gerry Lopez. Getting to know Gerry had a big effect on me, because I could see how beneficial yoga was to maintaining world-class surfing skills at an older age. It seemed like he was getting better every month, and he attributed it to yoga. I was working at Patagonia when I started my practice, and I would go to the classes we had at the office. I started to see the benefits pretty quickly and was able to avoid having the surgery. Being flexible and limber while staying strong is crucial at my age. I’ve created my own routine over the years that I do on my mat at home. I do it around three times a week. I like not having to bring my phone out for it or look at any videos. It’s a good time for me to find peace. I do it in the afternoon, because I can clear my head of noise and finish my day in a better mindset.
Stay in the Running
I started trail running in my early 20s, and it’s still one of my favorite activities. I first began when I was traveling a lot for work, because it seemed like an easy way to get outdoors and stay in shape no matter where I was in the world. All I needed was a pair of shoes. These days I do most of my running at home in Ojai. I live right next to Los Padres National Forest. There’s an incredible network of trails right off my backyard. I’ve been on those trails every day this week, but I have to be careful. This morning my foot came about eight inches away from a rattler. I have to make sure I’m always on the lookout. Over the years I’ve become a fan of the feel and performance of HOKA’s trail running shoes. I plan on staying on the trail as long as possible.
Find Your Base of Operations
I was always a surfer as much as I was a climber—an ocean and a mountain person. So, it was important for me to live somewhere I could do it all. I stayed in Malibu in the ‘70s, but over time was disenchanted with the number of posers. I started visiting the Ventura and Santa Barbara area to surf when I first met Yvon Chouinard, who I would later work with at Patagonia. Eventually we started climbing around there and I discovered it was a much better fit for me personally. I asked Yvon to keep his ear to the wind for a place I could call home. It didn’t take him long to find one, and I moved a few doors down from his place. This was back in the late ‘70s, so I guess I qualify for a local at this point. Over the course of my career I estimate that I’ve slept about five years of my life in tents, and I can say it’s nice living somewhere you’re happy to come back to. I’ve gotten just as much enjoyment going out to the wild areas in my backyard as I have in the farthest reaches of the world.