Ryan Waters: life on the mountains

WE TALK to mountaineer Ryan Waters about his passion for the profession and some of his most memorable experiences of climbing.

Ryan Waters

Ryan Waters is an American mountaineer, guide, polar adventurer and speaker.



RYAN WATERS started climbing in high school and his passion for mountains and the outdoors led him to go on and work in environmental consulting as a geologist. However, the pull of being free to explore and climb was too much for Ryan to handle and after a few years he could not suppress his passion for adventure any longer. He left his job and started working in outdoor education as a climber which eventually led him to mountain guiding.


In this exclusive interview Ryan talks to us about his career to date and what it is about mountains and climbing that make him tick. Read on to learn about the pleasure he gets from sharing his passion with others as well as his love for South America and the climbing opportunities the region offers.


While Ryan has set records, such as the Adventures Grand Slam which involved climbing the Seven Summits and skiing full, unsupported trips to the North and South Pole, it is his deep-rooted respect for nature and the joy he gets from what he does that makes his story so inspiring. His humility should be a lesson for us all.


To find out more about Ryan, his expeditions and speaking availability visit www.ryanwaters.net.


Ryan is also the owner of the guide service Mountain Professionals which you can learn more about at www.mtnprofessionals.com.


When did you start climbing and who or what inspired your interest in the sport?


I started climbing back in high school in the south east US. My friends and I had no idea what we were doing, and it was before all the nice climbing gyms were around, so you kind of had to just get out and learn from people at the crags, how to tie in to a rope, how to place protection, it was a pretty slow process back in the day.


I have to laugh but I honestly think it was when me and a buddy were watching the old ’90s movie K2, we saw the climbers training by rock climbing in the Cascades and when I saw the main character pull up and mantle over a hard move I was like “we gotta learn how to rock climb”.



Ryan started climbing at high school where he could have had no idea the places the sport would go on to take him. photo Eric Larsen

Tell us about your work as a geologist and how it inspired you to go on and become a mountain guide and outdoor educator?


I always knew I wanted to be outside no matter what I did for a living. I worked in environmental consulting for about three-and-a-half years after college as a geologist and I really liked the job and the people I worked with, but there was just some deep down yearning for more adventures that I could not suppress. I would find myself daydreaming of expeditions and looking at photos of awesome trips, mostly to high mountains, and finally the pull was just too big, so I talked with my bosses and they were fully supportive. I was already taking all my vacation time to go travel to climb a peak in South America or whatever, so they knew I was into the climbing with a passion, so they told me that I should go for it. I call it my mid-20’s crisis, where I left a good salary and 401k for pro deals and living out of my truck, I began working in outdoor education as a climber and this eventually lead me to mountain guiding.


What is it about the mountains and outdoors that makes you tick and how easy is it to share your passion with those who come to you for guidance?


I can’t put my finger on just what it is so special about the mountains or outdoors, I just know that it is the place I am most comfortable. Of course being at home, sleeping in a bed is very special as well, and even more so when you have been doing a lot of travelling and adventures for well over a decade, but I still sleep the best in a sleeping bag next to some far away peak!


I think that climbing mountains is a great lesson for life, because you have to focus on an objective, there are hard times and easy times just like your everyday life, so you can take the little experiences you go through while climbing and apply them to your other half of life.


I think that people I guide on climbs know that I really do love the mountains and they often say I have a laid back guiding style. The thing is that I am just always watching and absorbing all the different factors that are changing, people, the weather, time, conditions etc. So lots of my clients appreciate that we have a relaxed efficiency about our trips and they see that passion for having safe and fun expeditions.


Ryan Waters

In 2014 Ryan became the first American to complete the Adventures Grand Slam, by climbing the Seven Summits and skiing full, unsupported trips to the North and South Pole.


Tell us about some of your most memorable expeditions and where in the world has your career taken you?


Well there are quite a lot, I can start by saying that my trips have literally taken me to all corners of the world and the top and bottom as well. The most memorable trips are the ones that don’t have big special mountain names to them, but where the partners were special or incredible friends. When you are starting out as a mountaineer, a lot of the time you are focused on how to climb bigger more famous mountains and those tick marks carry weight at dinner parties. But when you have been around a long time, the big name mountains are less important and you remember the route you had an epic on with a good climbing partner on a 13,000 ft. mountain in the Rockies. But, that being said, I have had a lot of memorable experiences on the big name ones too, sometimes due to tragedy. Getting involved with a big rescue on Gasherbrum 2 in Pakistan, the Everest earthquake/avalanche season, those are memorable just because of the sadness that comes from them.


What is it about the South American mountain ranges that so appeals to you?


The first place I really learned about mountaineering and guiding was in the Andes. I spent about five years living in Argentina and Chile for six months a year, and a ton of tent time on the peaks there. I worked a lot of mountaineering courses and that is where I developed a lot of my leadership skills by learning from people with much more experience than me. I really fell in love with Argentina, the mountains, the raw beauty of such a big landscape, so during my early thirties I just decided to live there. As I write this I am actually in way southern Chile about to fly to Antarctica, so I seem to always end up back down in the southern part of South America.


Ryan Waters

In May 2014 Ryan and fellow explorer Eric Larsen reached the North Pole, after skiing unsupported for 53 days from Cape Discovery, Canada. It was in September 2015 that he and Larsen also made the first ascent of 6,166m Jabou Ri in the Rolwaling area of Nepal.


Where do you currently live and how often are you currently climbing and working outdoors?


I have been based in Boulder, Colorado for quite a while, that is where my company is located, but my girlfriend lives in Monterrey, Mexico, so I will enjoy spending time down there and visiting Portero Chico and other great limestone crags in that area. For example, last year I was out guiding and climbing more than half the year on expeditions all over the world. This upcoming year, I will ease back on the travel and do more management of my guide service and also focus on doing some more speaking and photography emphasis, which is kind of a new passion. Always evolving!

If you could sum up your life philosophy in no more than 15 words what would those words be?


You have to make things happen for yourself.





Ryan is the owner of the guide service Mountain Professionals which you can learn more about at www.mtnprofessionals.com. photo Eric Larsen


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