Mark Arrow is an avid climber, outdoorsman and adventurer. He’s climbed mountains, rocks and ice all over the globe – from New York’s Keene Valley to The Himalayas. He divides his time between professional guide work with, Rock and Roads Guides, and his masonry business, Arrow Masonry, where he is a fifth generation stonemason.
Woolx caught up with Mark in our offices here in Endicott, NY where we were lucky enough to hear all about his adventures as a climber, explorer and all round rock and stone aficionado!
Mark on Mt. Rainier in Washington State at a summit elevation of 14,411 ft.
WoolX Life: You climb, canoe, mountain bike, kayak, spelunk, play chess…, it sounds like you do it all. How did you get involved in outdoor adventuring, were these things you started doing while growing up?
Mark: Well I climbed my first mountain in 1963, 8 years old, by myself. Blue Mountain, up north in the Adirondack Park.
WoolX Life: Wow, 8 years old! Did your parents get you involved in this?
Mark: No they just dropped me off at the trailhead. I started playing chess when I was in third grade, when I was in seventh grade I invented 4 way chess, I developed a board and Milton Bradley picked up the patent rights.
WoolX Life: Really, that’s amazing! So when you get an interest in something you run with it?
Mark: I have passion, right. When I had my sons I decided I wanted to take them backpacking, car camping, and my third one, he was still in diapers. I took them car camping, and I was faithful, I never missed a year, I took them 4 or 5 times each year. And then we slowly progressed to backpacking.
WoolX Life: How did the Rock and Road guides come about? Did you just spin off from your own interests?
Mark: I was taking more and more people out, from the church and friends, and my first son became a doctor. So he was really safe to be with, so I wanted to become a guide, know all of the ropes, know all of the safety procedures. How to save someone.
WoolX Life: I imagine safety has to be really important, especially when you’re taking out inexperienced people.
Mark: One time my son and I were on the Grand Tetons, and we had to use both our talents to get three people down. One of the ladies was experiencing some problems with her body, trying to climb with the thin air and being nervous. She had a sprained ankle, and the other two guys didn’t know how to work their ropes or about wrapping the ankle to set it up. So it was good that Seth and I were there.
WoolX Life: I read somewhere, I think a quote on your website that said “80% of all mountaineering accidents happen going down, so let’s stay on top” is it just because people are tired on the way down.
Mark: Well, it is more dangerous going down a mountain than going up a mountain. That is a true quote, 80% of all accidents do occur going down, but the “let’s stay on top”, that was just for fun. What happens is that when you do a mountain, quite normally you have to leave at 10pm or 12 o’clock at night so you’ll be on the summit by sunrise so you can get down before the sun starts to melt the mountain. And so you hike throughout the whole night, going up and it’s hard work and it’s at night time and you just want to go to sleep and you’re asking yourself, why am I doing this? Its thin air and it’s just a mental toughness that you have to have, and then when that sun finally comes up and you have to go down, it’s even harder.
WoolX Life: Do you train for a particular climb, or do you just maintain a certain level of fitness all the time?
Mark: When you climb up into the thin air you’ve got to acclimate, you’ve got to train legs and lungs a little better. Normal rock climbing I can just go right up off the couch. With my job being a stone mason I’m active enough throughout the day, I can work with stone all day or I can climb the rock, it takes about the same amount of strength.
WoolX Life: Say I’ve never climbed before, how would I get started in a sport like this? What would you want a person new to climbing to know before they started?
Mark: Well you should hire a guide. Say you and I wanted to go out rock climbing, we would go out to the rock face and find some low angle slab climbs. You need to learn to trust the harness and trust the ropes. You have no fear of driving a car and almost 400 people a day die in car wrecks. But the reason why you feel so safe is you’ve been doing it since you were little, your parents put you in a car, you know the brakes, you know steering, you know the laws. You learned so you feel safe. So when you start rock climbing this is what a guide does. He will start you on some low angle stuff, he’ll show you how this one system works, and he’ll show you how the brakes work. He’ll show you how you can steer around this, or get around this. So you become safe with your harness and ropes. And then you slowly go steeper, more vertical until you’re 3,000 feet in the air and you’re safer up there than you were when you drove to get there.
WoolX Life: Is fear an issue even for experienced climbers, is managing fear always a big factor while climbing?
Mark: That’s the beauty of the sport. There is no other sport that you have to learn to breath. When fear comes on in a person one of the first things you do is stop breathing. When you’re in a really crunch situation your breathing will stop, you’ve got to learn. I can recall way back when I was first starting out, I’m on these faces and I had to tell myself, Mark just breathe, and just check out this one hold and get to the next one, but just breathe and relax yourself. There is no other sport where you have to actually learn to control your fears, control your mind while using your body to balance, tweak, push, pull…
WoolX Life: So it’s as much a mental sport as it is physical?
Mark: It’s both. There is no other sport like this where you will learn to trust your partner. When you go downhill skiing, when you go racing, kayaks, canoes you don’t have to trust anyone else. In climbing you have the person holding the rope, breaking it, you have to trust that they’re doing a proper job. When I climbed with my sons it builds a bond, a father son bond that you don’t get in the normal world. One of the pictures has my son Seth climbing, he’s doing this really hard climb and I was standing with another good climber, we’re up on the wall and it’s Seth’s turn to take the lead, put the rope up, and he turns to me and goes “I want you to manage the rope, to belay”. Not because I was his father, but because I’m his climbing partner and he trusts me. It was such a good feeling. And Tom (the other climber) he knew exactly, for a leader to go climbing he has to have complete faith in the man that’s working the rope, that he can trust him. He literally has your life in his hands. So he (Seth) doesn’t have to worry, are you watching me? Do you have me? He doesn’t have to pay attention to that, he just climbs.
Check back with WoolX Life for part 2 of our interview with Ice Climber and Mountaineer Mark Arrow to find out more about his world travels, his favorite climbing spots in the U.S., and how he thinks WoolX performs on the mountain!