EP 125: Zofia Reych — The Heritage of Climbing, Breaking Down Gender Roles, and What It’s Like to Be Autistic


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Zofia Reych is a Polish climber and anthropologist and author of Born to Climb. We talked about renovating their mid-18th century house in Fontainebleau, researching the book, identifying as non-binary and directing the Women’s Bouldering Festival, what it’s like to be autistic, key chapters in climbing’s history, losing friends in the mountains, and much more.

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Show Notes:



0:06:05 – Getting back from bouldering

0:08:19 – Zofia’s 240+-year-old house in Fontainebleau, and fixing the leaking toilet

0:11:31 – 12th-century castles, and what will be left of our civilization in 700 years

0:12:45 – Growing up in Poland, and living and bouldering in Fontainebleau

0:16:30 – Expecting to get better at climbing by living in Font, and my (Steven’s) experience with the 9-5 grind

0:18:27 – Our education system in the US, having direction, and Zofia’s fascination with people who start things very young

0:20:09 – Zofia’s mom, piano, and romanticizing about having a single focus in life

0:22:02 – The immersive process of writing a book, and the impact on Zofia’s climbing

0:25:26 – Negative vs. positive motivation

0:28:27 – The cycle of falling in love with climbing, feeling drive, pushing hard, and forgetting why we fell in love with it in the first place

0:30:05 – “Don’t push it.”

0:30:53 – Why Zofia felt like they needed to write Born to Climb

0:32:00 – An overview of the book

0:36:14 – Doing research for the book

0:40:38 – Zofia’s master’s thesis, and why it feels outdated

0:44:15 – Zofia’s gender identity (they/them), and being the director of a women’s bouldering festival

0:48:13 – Zofia’s Instagram post about gender identity (see show notes for link)

0:51:01 – “There shouldn’t be one recipe for how to be a human.”

0:53:21 – Autism, and using an inner formula to have conversations like this one

0:55:35 – Acting

0:58:31 – What Zofia is like when they are alone or with their mom, being childlike without filters, and dancing in public

1:01:35 – Stimming (stimulating)

1:02:18 – Being diagnosed with autism at age 31, and how that has changed Zofia’s life experience

1:04:43 – Being introverted in a society that rewards extroversion, and telling your life story to someone you meet in an elevator

1:11:16 – What Zofia does to recharge

1:12:35 – Climbing alone vs. with a group

1:17:58 – The scope of Born to Climb, stories from the mid-14th century hill walking, how polar exploration influenced climbing in the Alps, and climbing’s elitist roots

1:24:35 – On Stolen Land, and the uncomfortable history of Yosemite

1:33:21 – Loss in climbing, the fragility of being human, and exposing ourselves to risk

1:43:40 – Being responsible for your own safety, and feeling empowered

1:45:55 – TrueBlue

1:46:57 – Why writing the last chapter of the book was the most difficult part

1:49:56 – What Zofia hopes readers take away from Born to Climb, and being a tiny spec on the timeline

1:53:00 – The existential sandwich

1:54:32 – Who should read Born to Climb, and where to buy it (see links in show notes)

1:58:21 – Time for a nap

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