The first time I saw Daniel Fisher climbing was in the 2012 Australian Nationals, lead competition, when he put on an impressive display, blitzed the field, and took the title. It was obvious that he was one of Australia’s best up and coming new generation climbers. But then things went a bit quiet (at least to me), until recently, when at the end of January Daniel made the second ascent of White Ladder at Nowra – Australia’s first grade 34 route — which was established some 10 years ago and had gone without a repeat ascent until now (it’s discussed in our interview with Chris Webb Parsons here).
Given that Daniel is one of only a handful of Aussie climbers to crank that hard, I thought it could be interesting to find out what makes him tick, chew the fat and get some tips. So we put some questions to him and found out just what might be his “special sauce”…
Onsight Firstly tell us a bit about yourself. How old are you now, where did you grow up?
Daniel I’m 21 years of age. Born and bred here in Canberra, lived here my whole life. I’ve been climbing for ten odd years now, probably a bit more but yeah, I love it here in Canberra.
Onsight So you first started climbing around Canberra? How did you get into climbing?
Daniel My dad is an Outdoor Education teacher. I have four brothers (two older and two younger) and we were always climbing up the walls and climbing the trees in the backyard, and I think that because dad was an Outdoor Ed teacher that progressed that and took us outdoor climbing. I started when I was three or four years old, I was out there with dad nearly every weekend and half the time he’d pull us up to the top and then we’d just sit up there and admire the rock and stuff. I think that struck a chord with me when I was outdoor climbing. Then when I was eight my elder brother started in a rock climbing squad in Canberra and about a month after he started I kind of thought, “yeah, I need to join this squad” and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Onsight What did you like about it?
Daniel Not so much anymore but when I was younger I used to struggle with heights. So climbing I guess was kind of a way to attack that and try to approach my fears I guess. That’s what my parents always taught me and try to push the boundaries I guess.
Daniel No, we did a lot of Nowra trips mostly, it was more family friendly than Booroomba and Orroral Ridge.
Onsight Is your dad a pretty keen climber?
Daniel Yes, he is a P.E. teacher and so he injures himself a lot and so he spends more time talking about climbing and wishing he could climb rather than actually climbing. But when he does have a good couple of months when he’s not injured then he’ll come down to Nowra with me. He’s belayed me sometimes on a couple of my projects and it’s really nice to have him there and have the support, both of my parents are really lovely like that. Dad’s always willing to take days off work to belay me, particularly if I think things are really close and I think I’m going to send. And so I give him a call and he’ll say, “Alright I’m coming, I’m coming”.
Onsight Do your brothers still climb?
Daniel No my elder brother got busy with work, family and he has kids. And my younger brother, Zac, he’s an avid climber but this year, my parents are Mormon and so he’s going overseas on a mission for two years and with his mission he’s not allowed to climb, so he’s slowed downed this year because he knows he’s got that ahead of him. He loves it I think he’ll eventually come back to it.
Daniel Yes. Both my parents are very religious and go to church every weekend.
Onsight Do you?
Daniel Not anymore. I used to until I was 18 but not since then. I still hold the values very dear like the family values are good to aspire to but it just didn’t work out so well with me and church I think.
Onsight What values in particular?
Daniel Things like respecting your elders and very strong family values. Every Sunday we all go and have dinner together and we all sit down and we have strong family connections. I don’t like swearing and that sort of thing. I think the values that my parents instilled on me from a young age I really appreciate. I have strayed away from what my parents have taught in some areas. I do drink alcohol. A lot of friends my age may go out on weekend and drink heavily whereas for me I’ve learnt that that ruins your weekend and my parents have always said “well you’re not going to climb the next day”, so what ‘s the point? So, if I do have a drink it’s a one or two sort of thing only and not ruining the next day.
Onsight Maybe that’s part of the secret to your success. So tell us about the climbing scene in Canberra these days. I grew up there and always thought it was a good place to get into the outdoors. But the place seems to produce a disproportionate number of really good climbers. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?
Daniel I believe Cait Horan was a huge driving force behind Canberra for a many number of years. She built up the squad, she had three or four different levels in the squad and was constantly pushing kids through that. It meant that there was a really tight knit group of us. We were training three days a week and every time there was a competition we would all go, and we would all do really well. There are probably… ten or fifteen of the original squad that are still climbing. We are all best mates and it’s given us a strong grounding I think. That initial build has helped Canberra continually produce a strong array of climbers. Instead of it kind of dwindling there are always the new squad members. I was in training today and there are so many kids that keep popping up. They start, they build all of their technique and strength and they progress until they’re in that final squad. I think that, in itself, has helped so many different Canberra climbers to keep motivated for such extended periods of time. It’s really supportive at the climbing gym, everybody knows each other and keeps pushing each other and that’s what helps me become a good climber and keeps me motivated is knowing that there are always people in there pushing me harder, and I want to beat them, and they want to beat me, and it’s just this cycle of getting better slowly.
…we had Angie [Angie Scarth-Johnson who we interviewed here] come through… within a month or so she was climbing with all the older climbers… just because she was so strong.
Onsight That’s really not the answer I was expecting, I thought you’d be talking about how wonderful the climbing and bush is around Canberra, not about the gym scene.
Daniel Yeah, It’s a different scene now, it’s interesting. I find coming from Canberra I’ve always being quite motivated. I don’t know if that’s because of the people I climb with. I find that we are all motivated so when we get to the crag if it’s raining then we still climb all day. We don’t have that luxury to say “oh no, I’ll just come down tomorrow”. I’ve travelled all this way, I know I’m not going to send my project but I’m going to make it a good training day, and you walk away not being able to lift your arms above your head, but you’ve achieved so much more than taking a rest day and coming back the next day. It’s really high motivation all the time with most of the Canberrans.
Onsight What do you do for a living (job, study)?
Daniel I’m studying to be a teacher in Design and Technology being Woodwork and Metal work the area I want to go in to the most. That’s full time study but I work on the side doing high access work, abseiling off the side of the buildings, cleaning and maintenance of them.
Onsight The first time I saw you climbing was in the Nationals in 2012, where you blitzed the field in that one. Are comps important to you, are you planning to do more of them?
Daniel In all honesty I struggle with comps, I’m not a huge fan, I stress a lot. So I get in to the comps and I try to ignore the anxiety that I have, but I’m not very good in comps because… I think my style is more to explore as it comes and not very flowing, which I think tends [to work] very well in comps, you need to have that slow style where you need to make sure that your feet are perfectly placed and that sort of thing. Whereas I’ve had a number of comps where I’ve fallen off the first moves of the route. So yeah, I’m not a huge fan of comps. I do enjoy them, I do walk away sore and I do feel that they are a really good training aspect. I do plan on doing the bouldering series again this year but yeah, I struggle with comps.
Daniel So towards the end of 2012 I started getting an injury in my forearms which was just from over climbing. It was just a strain in my forearms. I was working towards getting the first ascent of a route in Canberra called Vertigo, and I was training quite hard for that and fell off towards the end of the crux on a few good goes and then got rained out for a few weeks. After that I took a six week break because the pain was so much that I couldn’t climb. I had a month climbing again but the pain came back and eventually that pain got too much again so then I stopped for four months. In that time I saw a Physio to start with, did a few months with him, then I saw a Chiropractor, an Acupuncturist and an Osteopath and none of it worked well. All of them came close but it was on the border line, they would say “okay you’re fixed go and climb again” but then the pain would come back within a two week period. My mum was hassling me to go see an acupuncturist, this little old Chinese lady and so finally I went to see her. I’d planned to go to the Grampians for ten days regardless of the outcome, just go anyway with my forearms in the condition they were in, I was happy to go away and hang out and stuff. And so I had one session with her and went to the Grampians and climbed ten days straight with no pain what so ever. It was incredible. I’ve had three sessions with her now and I’ve not had a problem since.
Onsight You climb at Nowra a lot, is that because it’s accessible?
Daniel Yes, but also the style suits me very well, they are short, powerful hard routes. And for me I train a lot of that in the climbing gym at Canberra, it’s very short at Canberra, maybe 10m if you’re lucky. So all my training is bouldering and that flows very well into Nowra I think.
Onsight So you’ve ticked a lot of the hard routes at Nowra?
Daniel Yes most of the hard routes, there’s still a couple that I’d like to get done. One of my favourite was Stamp Tramp or Tramp Stamp depending on which way you look at it, it goes up through the Grease Cave which is grade 32, a gorgeous flake line through the roof. That for me was a huge accomplishment. That was right before I went over to Europe for the World’s [the Youth World Cup]. I stopped going outdoors for about three months and I trained solely indoors for the World’s. Then I went outdoors for one weekend and it felt so easy and that for me was such a huge realisation of how good training is I guess. It was so motivating to know that all that training and all that time and effort that I’d put in had paid off so well.
Onsight So when did you go over to the World’s?
Daniel In 2011 I went over to Austria and spent two months over there, one month in Austria and one month in the Frankenjura with Rob and Carlie (LeBreton).
Onsight When you say World’s was that Lead or Boulder? How did you go?
Daniel That was Lead World’s (in Imst). So again, comps not being my forte, in the heats I placed 9th in both and I was feeling really good. I went in to the finals, that day it was raining, I had a wet rope, wet shoes, all the excuses. I came out and slipped off early on which I was very unhappy with because I didn’t feel pumped and I felt like I could’ve kept going. I ended up placing 19th, which I was very happy with but still it was frustrating because I knew I could’ve done so much better.
Onsight Do you think you’d do more World Cup comps?
Daniel Probably not. Again I’m not a massive supporter of comps, eventually I’d like to give it another go, challenging wise and motivation wise it would be amazing but not any time soon.
Daniel The climbing lifestyle is such an amazing thing, being able to shut out the world and being able to live, eat, breathe climbing every day for a month with Rob and Carlie, who are both lovely people, was just amazing. I almost became their son after a month.
Onsight Let’s move on to White Ladder which you’ve just climbed a few weeks ago. Tell us the process behind that; you mentioned you first tried it a few years ago?
Daniel So the bottom of White Ladder is called Attack Mode, grade 32, and you add an extra bolt and you’ve got White Ladder, which is 34. I sent Attack Mode in 2010 and kind of always wanted to go on further and send White Ladder. But I remember jumping on White Ladder and not being able to do a move, having no chance what so ever, didn’t even come close to being able to do the move. Then kind of tried it again on and off for the next couple of years, four or five years, until eventually at the end of last year I jumped on it and finally did the move, that for me was huge and I thought this will eventually go, I’d love to start training for this. So I started doing a lot of power endurance training and at the start of this year went back again. I did the start bit and that but it didn’t feel amazing and then got into White Ladder and the moves just felt easy. It was huge, that for me lifted such a mental block, I think, and a physical block, just knowing that I could do those moves quite comfortably. So the next week I ended up coming out and spending two days on that. The first day didn’t go so good I fell off six or seven times and I was a bit down trodden. I took the next day off, and back on it again on it the day after that. Yeah got it on the last send of the day, I was very lucky and very happy with that.
Onsight Wow, that’s pretty good because every time you’re having to do Attack Mode.
Daniel Yeah I was running seven to ten laps on that a day and was physically exhausted. So it was quite a relief to have sent it. I remember sitting down before the last attempt, sitting down feeling sore not thinking that I was going to send and already I’d planned out the week ahead of me… in preparation, just in case I failed on that trip, but it didn’t come to that which was nice.
Daniel So just before the last go I was sitting down chalking up before I pulled on and as I’m chalking up I’m thinking to myself. I don’t actually chalk up once in this route, I cannot physically take my hands off long enough to chalk up, and so I unclipped it, put the chalk bag down, and ended up sending the route. Then all the people I was with ended up teasing me quite a bit. Saying, I don’t know if you can count the send on that, you didn’t have your chalk bag on, I don’t know if that counts…
Onsight (laughs) I just made that up, I wasn’t expecting anyone would have hassled you about that. But obviously the weight you left on the ground made all the difference.
Daniel It must have cause that’s the only difference between all the other shots.
Onsight Any current projects? You mentioned Vertigo? The ridiculously thin, sharp, overhanging crack, seam on the back of the Tower Rocks at Orroral Ridge near Canberra. I actually aid climbed that back in 1986 in preparation for Ozymandias.
Daniel Firstly, congratulations on your aid climb that is not a nice one to aid climb I don’t think. So yeah, I’d probably been out there about seven or eight times just trying the route, there’s a nice window at the end of the year where it’s not too hot and it’s not raining… when it’s in pristine condition. It’s this unbelievable line, it’s these two perfect cracks that run side by side probably for ten metres or so and you’re just doing these tick tack moves. For every hand move you do about six foot moves and by the end of it my forearms are about to explode. It’s just amazing climbing.
Onsight Really? It just looks horrendous.
Daniel Yeah. Well I think until I send it I’m just going to keep positive about how much I enjoy the climbing. It is one that I use a lot of tape for on my fingers. As the day progresses the tape builds up.
Onsight Any other projects or places you’d like to go? What are you plans with your climbing?
Daniel I’d love to get back to the Blue Mountains this season. Every other year I’ve had Nowra there and it looked like such a daunting task. There are still a lot of open projects at Nowra that are waiting for a first ascent and I’d love to go down and tick but will see how it goes.
Onsight Anything on the world scene?
Daniel Ideally ever since I was young my dad explained to me that the world’s hardest climb was Action Direct, where you’re popping from single finger to single finger. I did actually get on it when I was over there and felt all the moves, and the holds felt a lot better than I thought they’d be, there was no mono’s as such, lots of shallow two finger pockets and the thing I struggle with the most was keeping my feet on. So that for me has always been a lifetime goals and it will always be a lifetime goal…
Onsight Who are your role models, if any? Why?
Daniel I’ve always looked up to my dad. Since I was young my dad to me has always been my hero. I remember we were at the crag one time, when I was about eight, and I went up to him and asked, “Dad, dad, what’s the hardest climb you’ve ever done? How hard does it go?” He replied, “One time I did a 25”. I remember that blew my mind, “a 25, that’s incredible” I screamed. I couldn’t fathom a 25 and my dad, like that was huge for me. And so always since then I love thinking back to that moment. That’s how I push grades because I remember thinking that 25 was such a mind block for me back then, whereas now I’m looking at things up at 8c+, and 9a is the dream for me. I’ve always wanted to achieve 9a and it’s such a huge block but I always think back to that moment, trying to be positive and think oh, its only 25, it’s okay.
Daniel Yeah. The first thing I do when I get home is either I’ll go over to my parent’s house or my dad will call me. He’ll say, “So what did you do this weekend? Tell me everything you did.” And so I’ll sit down and explain. And he’s like, alright so how did you do this move? And what did you do here? Maybe you could do this. It’s such a good bonding experience. I love coming home from climbing and having my dad there to support me. When I came home and told him that I sent White Ladder he was over the moon it was incredible. That’s always been a huge part of climbing for me. How supportive my dad is.
Onsight That’s awesome. So tell me your secret; what do you do for training? Any tips for us punters?
Daniel Lately lots of campussing and lots of power endurance I cannot emphasise that enough.
Onsight What do you do for power endurance training?
Daniel I have four problems (which are just at my limit) and I do five sets of them. So I do one lap of each of the four problems (in a row) as quick as I can and then take two minutes break and then do another lap and two minutes break. So I’ll do that five times and that’s enough for me. It not only trains power endurance it trains power. That’s what I did in preparation up to World’s and I can’t speak enough for power endurance. It hurts and it sucks but after you’ve put in your month and a half it’s incredible the difference it makes.
Onsight Certainly seems to! Thanks Daniel, that’s great. Congratulations again on sending White Ladder and thanks so much for your time.
Daniel is sponsored by Edelrid and Scarpa through Outdoor Agencies.