Adventurer Steph Davis finds inspiration and objective in a lifetime of excessive outside pursuits


Steph Davis has climbed some of the most challenging routes in the world and spends much of his time in the air as an accomplished BASE jumper and wingsuit flyer.

She will be speaking at the Aspen Institute on Wednesday at 5 p.m. with Reinhold Messner, widely regarded as one of the greatest mountaineers of all time

The lecture, titled “Mountain vs. Human Nature: Sustaining Alpinism as a Way of Life,” is part of the Institute’s “Murdock Mind, Body, Spirit” series.

Aspen Public Radio spoke Monday via Zoom with Davis about risk, sustainability and inspiration in the mountains.

What’s the meaning of life? I think it’s about living in a way that feels right and feels good, where you get better, where you kind of experience everything it has to offer. … That’s what it’s all about. Stephen Davis

Kaya Williams: This talk coming up on Wednesday is part of a “Mind, Body and Spirit” series related to the “Aspen Idea.” How do you view these three elements in your own life and in your quest for adventure?

Steph Davis: I think that’s always been the driving force behind adventure for me.

First of all, I think that sense of curiosity is very compelling, but also trying to figure out how to track that sense of curiosity in the physical world and then realizing what that requires of a human being, that brings it to a more interior and then somehow brings all these elements of mind, body and soul together.

Williams: Do you think this lifestyle of adventure and risk-seeking in these very large, mountainous environments is sustainable or even imitable for other people?

Davis: I think that’s one of the reasons why, I mean, I think Reinhold is obviously inspirational to a lot of people. He has been all his life and continues to be.

And I think that’s a big part of the inspiration, watching someone like him, decade after decade, really at the forefront of what I would call some of the most extreme styles of adventure, breaking down barriers and setting standards, and doing it so productively too and then slightly changing direction in the way he did.

But he’s definitely an example, I’m thinking of someone who has shown a very sustainable approach even if he’s really at the forefront of this very high-risk sport that he chose to do.

Obviously his direction has changed, but the stuff he’s made is really at the pinnacle of what people are making in those places. So I find him a really nice inspiration and example of that.

Williams: Do you think your own direction has changed over the course of your career?

Davis: I think part of what sustainability has always meant to me is that you don’t always do exactly the same thing.

Because first of all, in high-risk activities, if you’re doing exactly the same thing all the time, there’s this statistical reality that an accident is going to happen a certain number of times, so there’s that part of it.

But then there is also the piece just inspiration. And I know for myself that as a climber I’ve always embraced diversity, even within the tiny category of climbing, because if I keep doing the same thing, I kind of lose enthusiasm for it.

So sustainability is not just about survival. It’s also about inspiration and motivation. And that always means to me that you just have to mix it up a bit, you have to keep changing, because otherwise it’s all the same. There’s a point where it’s just not that interesting.

Williams: I would imagine that there are many risks and many losses in living life at the extremes of human capability. How do you deal with that as you keep moving forward and pursuing new things?

Davis: That’s such a tough question, you know, because I spend so much time mitigating and managing risk and basically just trying to make it so that I can keep doing the things I love do, and keep the level of risk appropriate.

If you spend a lot of time focusing on risk, it’s just this undeniable fact that humans just don’t last forever. And that’s just part of the deal.

But no matter what, everyone has that time and place when you really just need to look at life and realize it’s finite.

I think for people this is the main thing that we try to come to terms with all our lives. And for myself, as someone who pursues things that are potentially more risky, I think I’ve moved that awareness back and forth in different ways over time.

But in the end it always comes down to me, why are we here? What’s the point of being here? What’s the meaning of life?

I think it’s about living in a way that feels right and feels good, where you get better, where you kind of experience everything it has to offer, and if you can do that, I think that’s what It’s going ok.

Risk is one of those things that I just work with, I evaluate, I try to reduce, but I also try not to let that stop me from really living.

Williams: How can someone who is not a professional adventurer apply the values ​​and lessons of mountaineering and climbing and alpinism to their own life?

Davis: Honestly, that’s one reason I think it’s going to be really nice to talk to Reinhold, because I think he’s likely to have interesting perspectives on it, like his life path, first of all, being this incredible climber, then this overland adventurer and then, you know, like an MP, and then someone who buys old castles and needs permission to fix them.

Because I’ve found it really interesting in my life that sometimes the traits that serve you well in the mountains and in life and death situations need to be matched in trading with those same traits with more human-based ones communities or social constructs.

Learning how to tackle really big projects and things that have no clear end in sight, I think that’s what you get when you’re in the mountains.

I think this can be really good for you, or I’ve found that it’s been good for me in a life that’s not in the mountains. Because sometimes it’s really hard to achieve something that seems big and then the path is a little unclear and there’s a lot of sacrifice and a lot of risk and a lot of commitment. And you kind of question it, and it takes a very, very long time.

I know for myself that it’s very helpful to be able to say to myself, “Hey, you know, this is like wanting to break free (Rise) El Cap. It can take a long time, and you just have to work your way up bit by bit.” I think there’s a lot of value in that.

Williams: What are you hoping to gain from this Wednesday evening talk at the Institute?

Davis: I just think it’s a really fascinating opportunity to talk to Reinhold Messner, who’s just such a legend, such an icon and has been so productive in so many different ways in the world just to find something his Has piqued curiosity, that arouses his curiosity and things that are just grand undertakings.

What an interesting human mind that is. So I’m very excited to have the opportunity to talk to him and ask him a little bit about the things he’s been doing.

And I think when I think about all of this, I really just think about the concept of vision and manifestation. I don’t really think there is anyone like him.

Tickets for Mountain vs. Human Nature: Sustaining Alpinism as a Way of Life are still available at

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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