5 questions for pro adaptive climber Craig DeMartino


Pro adaptive climber Craig DeMartino has overcome life-changing injuries. Now, he's working to help others overcome their own obstacles.

Craig DeMartino first discovered he loved climbing at a bachelor party for a friend who didn’t want to go a strip club. In 2002, it almost killed him. He was with a partner in Rocky Mountain National Park on a route they had never climbed. Because of a miscommunication, he fell 100 feet from the first belay ledge. He broke ribs, his neck, his back and three limbs. He spent nearly a year in and out of the hospital with surgery after surgery, and doctors said he’d never climb again. But after his right leg was amputated below the knee, he became the first disabled person to climb El Capitan, and later, the Nose, in a single day.

Pro adaptive climber Craig DeMartino at Ten Sleep Canyon climbing area.

DeMartino climbing in Ten Sleep Canyon in Wyoming. Photo courtesy of Craig MeMartino.

1. How long did it take to start climbing after your injury?
I kept my leg for 16 months after the fall, but then doctors said it would never heal, and I’d never get out of the walking boot.

I couldn’t fathom living like that, not being able to climb, for the rest of my life. So, 18 months after the fall, I went back and had my leg amputated below the knee. I wanted to get back to the things I love to do. Once I amputated it, I was climbing four months later. Not well, but I was climbing. That was the most healing thing for me.

2. Had you climbed El Cap before your injury? What made you want to attempt it in a day?
The best I had done previously was six days and five nights on El Cap. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. It was super-burly, and I thought I’d never do it again, and that was with a healthy body.

About three years after my leg was amputated, I was planning to compete in a speed competition for disabled climbers, kind of like the X-Games, and I emailed climber Hans Florine with the subject line “Amputee climber … no joke.” He saw that, and emailed me right back, and was like “Why don’t you come out to the Valley, and we’ll climb El Cap together?” An amputee had never attempted to do it in a day, and he thought I could. I thought it was pretty crazy. When we talked on the phone, I was literally sitting in a wheelchair, doing wheelies. I heard myself say yes, but I never thought it would actually happen. We ended up finishing in 14 hours.

3. How do you use your own experience to help others get back outside after an injury? 
I work with kayaker Chris Wiegand, for an organization called Adaptive Adventures (adaptiveadventures.org). I’ve noticed that, in the adaptive climbing world, there’s a disconnect between people wanting certain kinds of equipment— things don’t fit disabled climbers right, for example, or they need something tweaked—but no one is marketing to them. I’ve gone to my sponsors [Editor’s note: DeMartino is sponsored by Arc’teryx, Bluewater, Evolv and Trango] and asked why we don’t market to that demographic. They’ve said there’s not an easy answer.

4. What do you do at adaptive adventures?
We work with people to get them back outside. Whether they have PTSD or they’ve lost a limb, I take them climbing. I tell them how I used climbing and the outdoors to get my life back. Chris teaches them how to kayak and SUP. A lot of people have these injuries, or they’re born a particular way, and they’re told, “You can’t do these things.” Really, they can do whatever they want.

5. There are so many people who beat the odds after doctors say they’ll never climb again. Why do you think disabled people are so often told there’s no chance they can be athletes again? 
That’s the $10 million question. I feel like doctors say that because they kind of have to cover their butts. If a doctor tells them they should go out and climb a rock, and then they get hurt, they’re going to come back and say, “That doctor, or that physical therapist, told me to do that and now I’m paralyzed.” For me, it’s kind of like, I got hurt so badly, so why not? I know how to recover. Not that I want to get hurt again, but I don’t want to pass these things up.

This story first appeared on p. 44 of the Day 1 issue of Outdoor Retailer Daily.


Conservation photographer Florian Sxhulz

5 questions for conservation photographer Florian Schulz

Conservation photographer Florian Schulz discusses his new book, The Wild Edge, and how he uses photography to encourage conservation efforts in North America and the Arctic Ocean. Florian Schulz began photographing nature as a teenager in Lake Constance, Germany. He won his ...read more

Len Necefer headshot

5 questions for Natives Outdoors Founder Len Necefer

Len Necefer has a Ph.D in engineering and public policy. It might not surprise you, then, that his outdoor apparel company is about far more than the gear. Natives Outdoors is a B Corp that shares profits with Native communities, and Necefer is working to take back ...read more


5 questions for Intrepid Entrepreneur founder Kristin Carpenter-Ogden

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden on the history of Verde Brand Communications, her latest venture, and when you should start looking into partnering with a PR agency. Kristin Carpenter-Ogden traveled around the world for a decade as a journalist. In 2001, the founders of Metolius and La ...read more

Pro skier Kalen Thorian. Photo courtesy of Kalen Thorian.

Q&A with pro skier Kalen Thorien

As a writer, photographer, and skier coming into her own as a professional athlete, Kalen Thorien knows more than a thing or two about succeeding as a woman in the business of adventure. Kalen Thorien became an athlete by accident. In high school, she played hooky and snuck ...read more

Ani Yahzid

3 Questions For: Ani Yahzid, on the Exposure film project

A Boulder filmmaker is bringing a hip hop artist from Atlanta into the backcountry for the first time, in an effort to make the outdoors cool for urban youth. Ani Yahzid grew up in Atlanta, where hiking and spending time outdoors was hardly cool. But he got up early on Saturday ...read more

Eli Bernstein

3 Questions For: Eli Bernstein, BACKPACKER's new associate gear editor

We ask what it takes to impress BACKPACKER Magazine gear editors. Eli Bernstein recently joined the team of our sister magazine, BACKPACKER, as associate gear editor. Previously, he was the homepage editor and producer for Sports Illustrated, in New York City. We caught up with ...read more

Annie Nyborg

3 Questions For Annie Nyborg, on Peak Design's 'Give a Shot' campaign

Give a Shot connects photographers willing to donate their time and photos with non-profits in need of imagery. Last week, Peak Design launched a brand-new website, Give a Shot, to connect professional photographers with environmental and conservation-focused non-profits. So ...read more

Michael Glavin

3 Questions For: Michael Glavin, on the new Zenbivy Bed

The brand-new Zenbivy backcountry sleep system will hit Kickstarter next month. After more than a decade of trying to make a backcountry bed that feels just as good as the one you sleep in at home, industry veteran Michael Glavin is launching the Zenbivy Bed on Kickstarter May ...read more

Rich Harper

3 Questions For: Rich Harper, OIA's international trade manager

Rich Harper, international trade manager for the Outdoor Industry Association, explains the border adjustment tax and how it could impact the outdoor industry. House Republicans want tax reform, and what they’re proposing is no small change from the current corporate tax ...read more