Salt Pump Climbing Co. has everything you could want to meet your climbing needs in the dark months of winter, from creative routes to a sweet little cafe to a great community of climbers, experienced and new. The gym’s co-owner, Taki Miyamoto, is a key member of this community and can typically be found walking around the space chatting with climbers and offering encouragement or beta. A Bate’s graduate, he has a soft spot for Maine, so much so that he returned here to fulfill his dream of opening a climbing gym. I got a chance to speak with the Taki and hear some of his experiences and thoughts on climbing, creating a climbing community, and living a balanced life.
Kat: How did you get into climbing in college? What about the sport/activity made you return to it?
Taki: Curiosity. My first year in college, I asked one of my best friends, who was already a climber, to take me with him the next time he goes climbing somewhere. One spring day, when he needed a belayer for a project that he had at Great Falls in Lewiston, he took me along. Even though it was a bit of a bumbling affair for me that day, not knowing anything about climbing or belaying, I became hooked. That spring, we climbed on all the rocks within walking or biking distance that could be found around campus (we didn’t have a car yet). Whenever we could, we explored farther. The act of climbing was so much fun in and of itself, but the treasure hunt for rocks with my friends––which usually starting with a rumor like “I’ve heard there’s rocks behind BJs”––made it all the more enticing.
From that first season on, climbing influenced a lot of decisions for me. All the summers between school I spent climbing: I did a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course in the Pacific Northwest and climbed throughout the region the first summer. The next summer was spent traversing and climbing Denali in Alaska, and then the last summer I climbed all throughout Colorado. After graduating, I spent a few seasons teaching for NOLS and climbing a ton until I decided it was time for law school.
Kat: Right, and then you spent seven years working as an attorney in New York and Tokyo before beginning the creation of Salt Pump. What role did climbing play in your life during that time?
Taki: It played a similar but different role. At some point, there came a realization that climbing may seem different from all other activities but what’s involved in the pursuit of becoming a better climber is the same as, say, becoming a better lawyer. The exploration and the culture surrounding climbing can be found everywhere; if you can’t find it, you carry it with you and nurture it wherever you are or whatever you’re doing. So while I wasn’t actually climbing as much as I had liked to while working as an attorney, I frequently channeled climbing and everything that surrounds it into my life.
That being said, I did build a very small climbing wall in my apartment in Tokyo so that I could climb even when I got off from work at some odd hour, which was frequently long after the local climbing gyms had closed.
Kat: How did Salt Pump come to fruition?
Taki: Love and friends. Salt Pump was one of those dreams that I had in the back of my mind and nurtured for a very long time before actually starting or being in a position to do anything about it. I had that dream for maybe 10 plus years. Then at a certain point it became about finding friends and great partners that were also in a position to do something about it. Those ended up being Freddie and Mark [Freddie Wilkinson and Mark Richey]. And then it was about finding the right timing.
In 2013, I was in NY and Natalie (my girlfriend then, wife now) was finishing up her masters in Maryland. It seemed like a good time to move to Maine together, back to where I went to school and where she grew up. We were eager to put down some roots together. She was going to work on her family farm before starting her PhD in soil science and I was going to open up Salt Pump. There were a lot of ups-and-downs before we could open the doors to Salt Pump, but we did it.
Kat: Glad you did! What were some of the main goals you wanted to achieve with its presence?
Taki: The effort continues to be to introduce climbing and its culture to as many people as possible, and to make Salt Pump a home-away-from-home for all. We ask people who come into Salt Pump, “how was your day,” and they frequently answer “better now that I’m here.” Others have written to us that it’s their “happy place.” The best climbers out there are also very good at “life.” We aspire to be more than a climbing gym. Part of being more than a climbing gym is by supporting and nurturing the ability in everyone to be good at “life.”
Kat: You’ve climbed in so many fascinating places; what are some of the places you still want to explore?
Taki: I want to get back to the Wind River Range in Wyoming, Yosemite, and Patagonia. Greenland and Newfoundland sound fascinating. I’d love to go on a bouldering trip around the world, as well as on a road trip around the US and Canada. I’d love to chase down a bunch of rumored boulders and cliffs around here in Maine and NH that I keep hearing about, go on more treasure hunts for rock. But I also have some of my own secret boulders and cliffs as well, and I’m very excited about those.
Kat: What advice would you give to college students who want to pursue their outdoor passions but feel the pull to follow, perhaps, more traditional, not-so-adventurous career paths?
Taki: Do both! You never know where a certain path will lead, nor who you will meet along the way. Be careful what you wish for. There is always a way to pursue your passions and make your dreams, ideas, and wishes come true, but it’s not always going to be easy. Have patience, persistence, and keep your friends and family close.
The climbing gym part 1: A college climber’s home away from home away from home