to accommodate a full body. It’s a realm of highly specialized maneuvers: the chicken wing, the knee jam, the lower-body jam and, lastly, the invert, a move that requires putting a leg above the head with the foot cammed into the rock at heel and toe. It’s a bloody, scar-creating approach that has been, until recently, the province of gnarled tough guys. But today, no one is better than Pamela Shanti Pack. She is the high priestess of the harsh world of inverted offwidths, a pursuit she describes as “ultimate fighting with a rock.” “Offwidths weren’t necessarily my calling,” Pack says. “But when it appeared like my climbing days might be over because of compartment syndrome, offwidths appeared. They’ve saved me, in terms of climbing. Offwidths gave me the chance to have a career in climbing.”
he wanted to be a gymnast. Then a painter. Then a kayaker. Then a cartographer. Then a pro climber. On the road to those goals she grew up in Vermont, moved to Montana, spent a year in Paris, lived in Oregon, lived in Boulder, then moved back to Montana. She’s been to school at Yale, Oregon State and the Vermont Studio Center. She’s painted landscapes and charted the deep seafloor of the Bering Sea. She’s climbed tiny chert knobs at Smith Rock, taped her hands for the sandpaper cracks of Joshua Tree, huffed up a thousand feet of Bitterroot granite in Blodgett Canyon. It sounds like the journey of a wandering soul, but Pack sees it as a career born of accretion,
each path offering something to the future while settling something about the past. It’s anything but the career track of her dad, the well-known poet Robert Pack, who taught at Vermont’s Middlebury College for 34 years before he and his wife, Patty, followed their children west to Montana. Bob Pack also directed the distinguished Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference for 22 years. He eventually taught at the University of Montana’s Davidson Honors College, and in 2006 earned UM’s presidential faculty award for distinguished service.
“She is the
harsh world of inverted offwidths, a pursuit she describes as ‘ultimate fighting with a rock.’”
Pack’s poetry is intricately tied to landscape; his sole daughter is a child of landscape, tracking its contours as a surveyor while exploring it most intimately as a climber. “There’s an appreciation that he has for the outdoors that I share,” Pack says. “I’ve danced around landscape with art, but I think climbing has really helped me forge my deepest relationship with it. I love it all, but I’ve become particularly immersed in the desert landscape in Utah. It’s so elemental.” The red Utah deserts are a long way from Pack’s childhood, which found