Cory Richards: Just another regular extraordinary guy

Cory Richards

Climber/photographer Cory Richards is in town tomorrow night to speak about his experience as a top climber and photographer. His talk at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, “Both Sides of the Lens,” is part of The North Face Never Stop Exploring Speaker Series. I managed to get an interview with Richards late last month; I say “managed” because Richards was on location in the Crimea and he managed to fit my questions in between his climbing and shooting.

I’m looking forward to meeting Richards in person tomorrow. Maybe buy him a beer, go climbing with him.

Oh, please, you’re probably thinking. This is Cory Richards — first American to climb an 8,000-meter peak in winter, creative eye behind some of the best mountain (and non-mountain) images made, the guy who was part of Conrad Anker’s team on Everest this past May. You think Cory Richards is going to have a beer and go climbing with some blogger?

Sure. Here’s why.

A couple years ago, Conrad Anker was in town as part of the same TNF Never Stop Exploring Speaker Series. Chuck Millsaps, Great Outdoor Provision Co.’s Minister of Culture (actual title; bet he’s the only one of those on LinkedIn) mentioned that Anker would be at their Cameron Village store the morning of the talk. “Drop by if you have a chance,” Chuck offered. So I did.

A minute with Anker and we were like old climbing buddies. Just as interested in where I’d been and what I’d been up to (“Tell me more about this Umstead place … .”) as I was in his latest exploits. When it was time for him to leave, he said he was going stand-up paddle boarding. “Wanna go?”

That evening after Anker spoke, Andrew Kratz and Joel Graybeal saw America’s most famous climber “just sort of hanging around,” so they bought him a beer. “We’ve got a climbing gym in town,” the two told him. “Wanna come climb with us?” The next morning, Kratz and Graybeal were living the dream, climbing with Conrad Anker in their Triangle Rock Club. “He invited Andrew and I to go ice climbing with him in Montana,” Graybeal recalls.

Five months later, Graybeal is in the Atlanta airport and he spots Anker. “You probably don’t remember me,” Graybeal begins, but he’s cut-off. “Of course,” says Anker, “we climbed at your club in Raleigh.” Both had time to kill before their flights, so the two old buddies grabbed a bear in an airport lounge.

“He was completely awesome and down to Earth,” recalls Graybeal. “He gave me his cell and personal email — he also said that if I ever aspired to go to Everett Base Camp that he would hook me up with his personal sherpas!”

OK, so Anker’s the exception. These high-profile athletes, they —

No, not the exception. Last October, ultrarunner Diane Van Deren, another elite The North Face athlete, comes to town, also as part of the Never Stop Exploring Speaker Series. Diane is a regular at the Western States 100, arguably the hardest ultra marathon in the country, and once raced 300 miles across the Yukon, had such a swell time that the following year she signed up to do the 430-mile version of the race. The Mayo Clinic has studied her to see what makes her tick.

“Hey, a few of us are going to run at Umstead with Diane,” Chuck mentioned when she arrived in town. “Join us if you want.” So I did. After 4 miles, Diane had asked me more questions about myself than I had been able to ask her.

Later that evening, after her talk, Diane decided she would like to run across North Carolina (which she did in May). As plans for the run progressed, I heard that she would need trail guides, someone to run with her 40 or 50 miles each day. “Can I get in on that action?” I asked Chuck. A bold request from someone who’d never run more than 20 miles in a day. I ended up spending a few days on the trail with Diane and became her official trip chronicler. And I did one better than Joel Graybeal with Conrad Anker: Every once in a while I get a call from Diane on her morning training run in Colorado, just checking in to see how things are going. I’m not the only one from her record-breaking Mountains-to-Sea Trail run who hears from her, either.

Based on the interview with Cory Richards, I can tell he’s cut of the same cloth. I asked him some hard questions, he gave me surprisingly honest answers. I heard him in an interview with Colorado Public Radio and he was the same. In fact, he was the same in every article I read to prepare for the interview. I can’t vouch for every elite adventure athlete, but in the decent person department I’m batting a thousand so far.

So come hear what Richards has to say tomorrow night. And bring your climbing shoes: There’s some sweet flagstone to be climbed downtown and I’m guessing Cory would be more than happy to give you some pointers.

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Cory Richards: “Both Sides of the Lens”
The North Face Never Stop Exploring Speaker Series
When: Oct. 10, 7 p.m.
Where: Main Auditorium, N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, 11 W. Jones Street, Raleigh
Cost: $20, including exclusive VIP reception at 6 p.m., $8 for reserved seat, free for general attendance (based on availability). Proceeds benefit the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
For tickets, go here

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