A Long Way to Fall 

Is champion climber Scott Cory losing his grip on greatness?

The interior of Touchstone Climbing in Concord is lightly dusted with a fine chalk snow that falls ceaselessly from overhead. The tiny white flakes accumulate on brightly colored plastic handholds, and puff out of chalk bags that are strapped to sculpted glutes in tight spandex. Just inside the entrance, a bored-looking clerk sits at a retail counter stocked with Clif bars, climbing equipment, and some dog-eared copies of Rock & Ice magazine, his own glutes plastered motionless on a barstool. It's a good gig for a climbing junkie -- he gets free use of the facilities, and 15 percent off on gear -- but he still looks as though he'd rather be somewhere in Yosemite, or at least up on one of these soaring walls, beneath which a herd of teenagers is learning the basics from a pair of half-interested instructors, climbing bums like the clerk.

Suddenly, there's a loud thud behind the group, and all heads turn to locate the source. It's the sound of a heavy North Face backpack hitting the padded blue floor, kicking up a cloud of chalk dust. Beside it, surveying the room and looking as if he's king of the mountain, stands the most accomplished climber within fifty miles of the place.

His name is Scott Cory, and he's been a professional for seven years. In 2001, he teamed up with renowned climbers Beth Rodden and Tommy Caldwell to conquer the Nose of Yosemite's El Capitan. Thirteen hours later they'd set a record for one of the fastest ascents of the infamous face, which typically takes four days to mount.

Scott has climbed all over the world. As of this workout, he has been a member of the USA Climbing National Team six years running and has seldom finished a competition without standing on the awards podium. He has just returned from Peru, where he and fellow climber Steve Schneider became the first Americans to complete a free ascent -- without upward assistance from manmade gadgets -- of "Welcome to the Slabs of Koricancha," an insanely difficult route on the 17,470-foot Andean peak La Esfinge ("The Sphinx").

If the Touchstone clerks and trainers are living a climber's dream lifestyle, then Scott's is nirvana. Fuck the 15 percent discounts: He gets everything free -- backpack, ropes, shoes, sunglasses, dietary supplements. His trips around the world are paid for by his sponsors: Bollé, Bodymax, PMI, Met-RX, Petzl, and the North Face. He has appeared in catalogues, documentaries, Sports Illustrated, Rock & Ice, and all manner of television news programs and talk shows. In a sport where there are no seven-figure salaries, it's sponsorship that makes the sun come up in the morning. "The sponsorships make it a lot easier to be able to keep climbing, 'cause then you don't have to pay for a lot of the gear," Scott says.

But all this glitz may be in jeopardy. Since 1998, Scott has advanced in the USA Climbing Nationals from fifth to third, and then to second place in both 2001 and 2002. But rather than continue his rise in the standings, he has begun to slip, placing third in last year's competition. His body is starting to work against him, his youthful exuberance giving way to a more media-worn exterior. And while his love for the sport is as strong as ever, his advanced age is proving his most difficult obstacle.

Will fourteen-year-old Scott Cory of Brentwood, who has conquered everything he has ever put his hand to, be undone by puberty?


To date, the climbing career of Scott Cameron Cory has been punctuated by "youngests." At eight, he was the youngest climber ever to make the USA Climbing National Team. At ten, he was the youngest American to "onsight a 13a," which means he completed an exceptionally difficult route, without a single fall, and without ever having seen the rock face before. At eleven, he was the youngest ever to conquer the Nose of El Cap. A month later, he became the youngest to do the Nose in a single day. Then, at thirteen, he was the youngest to scale the face of Half Dome in one day. Of late, he has designs on a new youngest: He wants to be the first kid to climb both of the aforementioned Yosemite icons in the space of 24 hours -- an attempt that has been pushed back several times in recent months.

The boy is phenomenal on the rocks, to be sure. But the sponsorships, the media attention -- much of it hinges on his kid status. Hotshot climbers are a dime a dozen, but Scott's youth helps convince companies he'll make their sportswear, sunglasses, and supplements move off the shelves. The title of his Web site, ScottCory.com, plays up this role: "Scott Cory -- Kid Climber."

Not for long. Scott shot up six inches in the past year alone, and now it seems the rest of him is struggling to catch up, as though his limbs were scavenged from various sources. He still has scrawny boy legs, but now boasts the arms of a man. Hair has appeared along his elbows and forearms, and he's grown rather fond of his newly acquired biceps. His back, meanwhile, has blossomed into a knotted mess of bulging deltoids, lats, and God-knows-what-elses. His voice, while still high, seems to be dropping by increments daily. And the bits of him that have matured are gargantuan. "When he hit thirteen, the muscles started growing. His back blew up and he got those biceps," says Scott's father, Jim Cory, while his son stands in the background, flexing a Popeye arm for a pal.

Today, it's business as usual for Scott and his parents, Jim and Jennifer. Their son is here to train -- or try to. "Scott's bored with these routes," explains Jim, a former Golden Gloves boxer. "He's climbed everything here, and they haven't changed the routes in a while, so he gets bored pretty quickly."

That much is obvious as you watch Scott dangle a dozen feet off the ground -- showing off, as it were -- without even bothering to don his harness. Finally, he lets go of his colorful handhold and plummets to the mat with a loud thud, a reprise of his entrance.

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