The Birthday Challenge

Jul 11 • Uncategorized • 5420 Views • No Comments on The Birthday Challenge

In the modern world of rock climbing, we’ve invented lots of different ways to be competitive, but perhaps nothing is more enjoyable and personal than the “birthday challenge”.

[story by Luke Mehall]

Its beauty lies within the difficulty and personal nature: on your birthday, climb as many boulder problems or routes as your age.

I was first introduced to this concept from my good friend Shaun Matusewicz, after he spent a winter in Joshua Tree. Shaun first heard of the b-day challenge from Renan Ozturk, who was climbing in J-Tree at the time, and also found some beta via Hans Florine’s personal website. J-Tree is the perfect place for an invented challenge like this, as there are thousands of routes on the granite domes spread out across the California desert.

Shaun was 25 when he did his first b-day challenge, and the younger you start the habit of celebrating a birthday in such a way, the easier it is. It gets harder the older you get.

My first birthday challenge was a huge miss. In J-Tree, I tried to emulate Shaun’s accomplishment, on my 26th birthday, but failed miserably. I got to 13 routes before I was pumped out of my mind, and the sun was quickly setting. But, still, I climbed 13 routes in a day, and that was certainly more than I would have in just a normal day of cragging.

In addition to the challenge getting more difficult each year, the chance for success heavily depends on when you were born. Obviously, the closer to the Summer Solstice your b-day is, the higher your chances for success. But, it is a game, like many rules in climbing, rules can be broken.

Talking recently with a good friend of mine and super-motived partner, Jonathan “Badger” Mitchell, we realized our birthdays are a year and three days apart. I started telling him about the birthday challenge, and immediately he thought it was a cool concept. Since our birthdays are in December, we agreed to do a summer birthday challenge, and we are in the processes of training for it right now. Badger will be 35 this December, so that is our goal, thus far even the training has helped boost our endurance, and that saying, “the journey is the destination” is holding true for our summer climbing.

Since my birthday is in December, I’ve always had a mix of activities I do for the challenge, not simply climbing. My thoughts are to make it fun: take your age and do that number of pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups, or even high-fives. Throwing biking or running into the mix is also fun, and since there are no real rules to a birthday challenge, the rules can be bent. Run or bike for a certain number of miles, or even minutes, the possibilities are endless. If you’re a winter child, throw some skiing or snowboarding into the mix. When I recently asked Shaun about other things he liked to do, he remarked that in the past he’s added a business deal in his challenge; one year he bought 30 shares of Apple computer stock. He’s planning a climbing trip to Argentina with the profits he’s made.

Climbers seem to be looking for ways to make our pursuit more and more competitive; the speed records in Yosemite, indoor climbing comps and the possibility of climbing being in the Olympics are all evidence of this. But most of us love climbing because we can be competitive within ourselves; after all at the heart of climbing it is a personal pursuit.

After my 33 and a half years of being alive, nothing has made me appreciate my life on my b-day, than taking the birthday challenge. How old are you turning this year?

Read Part 2, Just One More, B-Day Challenge Training

Have you done a birthday challenge? Write us at and tell us about it. If we like it we’ll post it on the site, and send you free zines. Cheers!

Luke Mehall is the publisher of The Climbing Zine, and author of Climbing Out of Bed, a definitive collection of rock climbing and mountain town stories.

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