Matthew Clausen

In the mountains!

In the mountains!

AMGA Single Pitch Instructor
Wilderness First Responder

Devil’s Lake started as a mystical place for me in second grade on a day trip, when I hiked the trails with my Boy Scout troop. The Lake and its surrounding trails felt immense, as my little legs moved to keep pace with the Scoutmaster. My eyes, however, were on their own pace. They flew quickly, time after time, from trees to water to the rocks on the ground and the rocks towering over me. And then I saw people moving on some of those towering rocks. What were they doing?

“They’re rock climbing,” the Scoutmaster answered.  

People can climb rocks? The question hit me like an impossibility—before this, growing up on a farm in Kenosha, I’d never even seen a rock big enough to do more than stand on top of. But the answer was obvious as I watched the gymnastic movements of a climber. People can climb rocks!

I wanted to rush over and join them. There was nothing I loved more than climbing trees and jungle gyms, but this looked like it would be even more fun than the tallest tree I’d ever climbed.

“No,” I was told, “It’s too dangerous. The people who do that are crazy.”

The hiking never broke stride, and my mind shifted to the next things that filled my eyes. It took 17 more years before I experienced the joyous freedom and focus of climbing. Stepping off an airplane in Denver to visit one of my best friends for a week of biking, he picked me up in his car and asked if I wanted to go climbing with some friends, right now. 

“Can I do it in tennis shoes and jeans?” I asked.

 “You can good enough!” He was right. We drove straight to Clear Creek Canyon and met the others, who had brought harnesses, ropes and helmets after a quick phone call. I fell in love with climbing halfway up the first route.

Climbing took over my spare time after that. While my career moved on to becoming a marketing executive, my passion only grew for climbing. My job kept me late on weekdays, and then I’d rush to the climbing gym to train until closing. On Fridays, I’d drive to Baraboo and spent the weekend on the rock, either camping or staying with friends in the area, driving back home only after dark on Sunday.

Maybe the Scoutmaster was right that I am crazy, but he was wrong about it being too dangerous. I learned from great mentors how to climb safely. There are dangers in life, and especially in rock climbing, but how we manage those risks defines if something is “too dangerous.” Every year, more hikers are injured at Devil’s Lake than climbers.

I benefited tremendously from a great mentor and climbing partner, James Schroeder, who became a Lead Guide for Devil’s Lake Climbing Guides. As more of my friends, and most importantly the children of my best friends, started asking me to take them climbing, I decided to improve my own level of training. I followed James’ path to become a better mentor myself. I took emergency medicine and guiding courses, becoming a certified instructor.

I choose to work with Devil’s Lake Climbing Guides because of the honest, all-around good natured people on the team as well as the company’s commitment to safety. While I still work in an office during the week, and the labor of homeownership now takes up more of my time, you’ll still find me smiling on the rock evenings and weekends, sometimes with friends and sometimes with clients. See you out there!