“Everybody is scared but Cedar doesn't even flinch. He just takes the rack and charges -- leg tapping up the wall, holds flying off, no gear.”
“Oh no! Oh no!” screamed Cedar Wright as he wildly slapped the arête of Air Swedin (5.13 R), one of Indian Creek’s most feared routes. Every shaky move put him further above a single micro-cam — the only piece that could keep him off the ground 70 feet below. “His feet were popping off, the rope was behind his leg,” said friend and belayer, Nick Martino. “He was out of control, just falling upward.”
Wright barely hung on, past the point where the cam would keep him off the deck. Martino could barely watch. Eventually, Cedar slammed in some gear and clipped the anchor, where he yelled a visceral, throat-scratching, “Whooooooooo!”
“And that’s just how he climbs,” said Martino. “He’s done a lot of shit just by trying super hard and being super psyched.”
I met Cedar in 2004 beneath a 2,000-foot granite spire in the Bugaboos called the Minaret. I recognized him from the magazines: black, curly hair; dark-rimmed, coke-bottle eyeglasses, and an almost constant smirk that seemed to say, “I’m better than you.” He gave the vibe that he, along with partners Martino and Renan Ozturk, were up to something badass.
Which, incidentally, they were.
During a month-long trip they made first free ascents of the Minaret’s immaculate Italian Pillar (V 5.11+) and its Southwest Pillar (V 5.12 R/X). The latter involved runout 5.12 on flared, grainy cracks — the kind of desperate terrain where Cedar shines. “We would get to a pitch of vertical kitty litter that could be 5.10d or it could be 5.12c,” explained Martino. “Everybody is scared but Cedar doesn’t even flinch. He just takes the rack and charges — leg tapping up the wall, holds flying off, no gear.”
Cedar exerts this same wild determination to his career, being one of few American climbers to have made the near-impossible leap from pauper to pro — from eating fish out of dumpsters to dining on sushi. In the process, he’s evolved from cocky competitor to supportive partner. “He’s really changed,” said Martino, who began climbing with Cedar in 2002. “Back then, if you weren’t his friend he was kind of a dick.”
After graduating from Humboldt State University with a degree in English two decades ago, Cedar drove his truck straight into his new life as a climber. He bummed around Joshua Tree during the winter and Yosemite Valley the rest of the year, where he worked on Search and Rescue. After five years on YOSAR he was booted for being, as he described, “too counter- cultural.”
“I was diving in dumpsters for a long time,” he said. “Like, for years.” He would harvest expired food from a Trader Joe’s dumpster and take it to Joshua Tree. “One time there was all this fish and we had this huge barbecue party. No one got sick — it was a miracle.”
Cedar’s insatiable hunger for adventure has led him to bag huge, new routes all over the world, like his 2007 first ascent of the west Cat’s Ear Spire in Pakistan with Ozturk. The pair spent 43 soggy days at base camp with a single three-day break in the clouds. They raced up the granite spire, which is taller than Half Dome, to a high-altitude, virgin summit in the heart of the Karakoram: an alpinist’s dream.
Just one week before Pakistan they were in Alaska finishing up a two-week first ascent frenzy in the Ruth Gorge. They established five new free climbs including The Beholder (V 5.12) on the El-Cap sized Eye Tooth. Halfway up Wright led a 5.10 traverse with death-fall potential, protected by “RPs in rotten, expanding flakes,” he wrote on alpinist.com.
It almost makes sense that someone crazy enough to spend his summer vacation like that was conceived and raised in a school bus in California, by parents whom he affectionately called “pot- smoking hippies.” Now 40 years old and married for three years, he remains close to his parents and younger sister, Willow.
Of the few climbers who make a living at it, most began with some kind of financial upper hand. “Dean Potter was one of the first people I saw go from being full dirtbag to getting paid by climbing shoe companies. He was a guy like me, who came from — really — the dirt. I was like, ‘Dude, you fucking bastard, that’s awesome! I want that.’”
He would have to find his niche — a reason for climbing companies to not only notice him but to pay for his lifestyle. “I have a lot of experience and expertise but I’m definitely not the world’s strongest climber,” said Cedar. “By any means.”
Good thing his work ethic was forged in the Valley where he’s established major first ascents like “The Uncertainty Principle” (V 5.13a) on Sentinel and “Mahtah” (V 5.12d) on Liberty Cap. He’s also one of few to have freed El Capitan in a day — an achievement Cedar considers one of his greatest. “In Yosemite you work fucking hard for your climbs,” he said. “If you can take that hard work and apply it to something else in your life besides climbing … you know? For me, it’s filmmaking. That’s really what took me to the next level.”
One of Cedar’s first film assignments was to produce short video dispatches of climbing in Mallorca for The North Face (TNF) in 2009. Like the other athletes, Cedar climbed almost every day but for the first time it wasn’t his priority. While everyone else kicked back each night with fresh sangria, Cedar’s glasses were glued to his computer, piecing together footage from the day. Some nights he only slept a few hours before another full day of climbing and filming.
As always, his dedication paid off.
Cedar’s latest film, Sufferfest 2, won several prestigious awards including People’s Choice at the Banff Mountain Film Festival. It chronicles a three-week adventure in the spring of 2014 when he and Alex Honnold climbed 45 desert towers in four states, using only bicycles for transportation.
He also pens The Wright Stuff, a humorous column for Climbing Magazine, which has appeared regularly for over a year. “I come home with stories, I do what I do with true love and passion, and I think that shines through,” he said.
It definitely shines through in his attitude toward others. I asked Martino why he thought Cedar had changed over the years. “Maybe he doesn’t have anything to prove anymore,” he said. “At this point he’s done enough shit that he’s just enjoying climbing and having fun.”
For Cedar, enjoying climbing means pushing harder than ever but also following adventure wherever it leads him, whether it’s on-sighting the Venturi Effect (IV 5.12) line in the High Sierra or his newfound obsession with paragliding.
“Life’s a mystery dude. You never know what’s around the corner,” said Cedar. “It’s just good to be open to the possibilities and to remember the important things: your friends, your family, and making rad experiences.”