Quinn Cooke is one of the most genuine and outgoing people I have met at any of the climbing areas I have visited. When he first approached our group camping one night out in Holcomb Valley, we honestly thought he was going to yell at us for being too loud (which we probably were). It turns out this wasn’t the case, not only was he profoundly deaf and couldn’t hear us, and our probably obnoxious ravings, he was going around being a conscious climber and outdoor citizen looking for those rogue groups having illegal fires in the Climber’s Campground. He asked to climb with us the next day, and we offered him a belay. That was the start of weekend where we climbed, drank, and had one of the more memorable weekends I’ve had up in Holcomb.
I asked Quinn if he would be willing to share his story as a climber and local resident of the crag in hopes that he would be apart of my new personal project, and he happily agreed. I couldn’t think of a better person, and new friend to introduce this new series and passion project that I hope, shares the true values of what the climbing community means to others and myself.
Quinn, age 53, began climbing back in the early 90’s and has been climbing more consistently over these past few years. His initial interest in climbing evolved from a combination of love for the great outdoors and a healthy dose of adrenaline. Quinn mentioned more than once that it isn’t easy given that the majority of people he runs into don’t know ASL (American Sign Language), but I can see how his friendly demeanor and kind personality can transcend that adversity, like it did with my friends and I. As much as he enjoys the climbing, it’s equally the people he meets and trades stories with at the end of the day that motivates his continued pursuit of outdoor recreation.
To be completely honest is a difficult thing some would argue, especially to people that you just meet. When I asked Quinn to actually share his story he sent me this response.
“I was born deaf and from CT (Connective Tissue Disease). I work in LA most of the time in construction for a living. Sometimes I feel diffident with the hearing world (like I’m a deaf guy trapped in a hearing body, and have a hearing persona tapped inside a deaf guy). I’m grateful that I can speak very clear, albeit that I’m profoundly deaf, which is a gift I was told. Lip-reading is very challenging and tedious work, and life has been challenging for me since I last had hearing aids, which was 18 years ago. Since then, they have worn out, but they are just too costly. As of now, I know I’m happier being outdoors doing activities like mountain biking, hiking, camping, or white water rafting.”
His initial response to my next question made me laugh, and is very much representative of the great one line responses that were so abundant our conversations that weekend. I asked him “who he is as a person?”
“Who I am as a person…Umm…I’m a Deaf Guy! I love music (yes LOVE MUSIC) especially classic rock / folk, and 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s artists. I tend to be funny in my own way (I try hard not to, heh) in the hearing world to fit in with hearing groups. I have a knack at being a bit crazy funny kind of guy and am sort of an adrenaline seeker.”
I was curious to know after climbing for so many years and being a part of the local climbing community, to hear what his thoughts were on things that have changed for the worse. In Holcomb in particular, there are many frequent visitors and one of the true pet peeves he has is when people don’t clean up their toilet paper. The other annoyance is with the people, who cast doubts on the deaf and himself when they ask to climb. It feels like “they don’t want to be responsible”. Which hurts to hear, because honestly he was a great belay, and definitely could vocalize the proper climbing commands. “The only thing that we deaf people can’t is hear, but that alone doesn’t mean that we can’t communicate.”
Quinn possessed a great amount of stories and humor, and I could not help to ask what advice he would give his 30 year old self.
“That’s long gone since I’m 53. I’d say to Carpé Diem and truly focus on your own passion and desires and don’t squander your time carelessly. The hard part is, what do you want to be or do? I struggle with that currently. Be open-minded and have a clear conscience and perspective of those around you. Maintain a positive attitude from within, and toward others be non-judgmental. We’re all human, and we prick and bleed equally. If I have a chance to tell myself advice at 30, it would probably be a whole different perspective, but if that happened, I’d not be here and present to answer these questions. A path has been laid at my feet, I’ve yet to seek.”
My friends and I were happy to have met Quinn. I feel like that weekend with how and why we were climbing was so symbolic of the climbing community that I have seen so far. We see these incredible athletes performing mind-bending feats in every corner of social media, but I wish we saw more of the people of the crag like Quinn.
Location: Holcomb Valley Pinnacles
Date: Sept. 7 – Sept. 9, 2018