Climbing with Johnny Goicoechea humbles even the best Inland Northwest sport climbers. On a recent trip to Riggins in central Idaho, Johnny gorged himself on the most difficult routes available in a massive limestone cave and tasted success on nearly everything he touched. Only a handful of Northwest climbers can even grasp what this freckle-faced, young man climbs-figuratively and literally. He’s a pro at climbing the impossible, with an emphasis on power and dynamic moves, and likely the most unassuming athlete you would ever meet.
Spokane’s legacy of bold climbers rivals the best from other outdoor-minded communities like Bend, Boulder or Bozeman. But few places, in North America or Europe, have a climber so driven he can float to the anchors of a 5.14 climb in fewer than 9 tries. What’s equally interesting is that only a small amount of people know Spokane hosts a few 5.14 climbs-virtually the most difficult rating attainable in the climbing realm. Given Johnny’s recent climbing spree this summer, Spokane is sure to have another 5.14 route soon.
Over a decade ago, while attending a wedding in Boise, some cousins took Johnny rock climbing at the local cliffs. Upon his return to Spokane, he quickly signed up for a belay card at Wild Walls Climbing Gym. Virtually brand-new at the time, Wild Walls attracted droves of kids that wanted to be just like climbing superstars Chris Sharma or Katie Brown. As expected, most of the teenage enthusiasm faded away in all but a handful. However, within two years Johnny started to train on and, soon after, master the most difficult routes in the climbing gym. Many top local climbers, including Brett Jessen and Brian Raymon, recount an enthusiasm and tenacity that made him stand out even in those initial years.
Jessen, who served as the Wild Walls climbing team coach at the time, noted, “He would climb seven days a week no matter how many times I told him to rest. At one point, I suspect he had stress fractures in both middle fingers, and it just made him want to climb more. Almost four years on the (Wild Walls climbing) team and he was way stronger than me. Now, he has become a kind, supportive, athlete that is as strong as he is humble.”
By his senior year in high school, Johnny started to tour the country for climbing comps and visit the most popular climbing hubs such as Bishop, the Virgin River Gorge, and several places in Colorado. He exposed himself to different styles of climbing, different types of rock, and he shared a rope with a number of gifted climbers. The meandering road delivered him to Colorado for a period, where he served as a model for adventure-photographer Brian Solano, and ultimately started working for climbing legend Christian Griffith at Verve clothing. A stampede of climbing antics throughout the West, paired with superb placement in various distinguished competitions, earned four significant sponsors-Verve, Five Ten, Revolution and Fortress Watches.
There is no doubt Johnny’s not oblivious to life away from the world of basalt, chalk, and finger holds; he just calls it “doing my thing” and quickly points out that he is a full-time college student. His family is very important to him, a pleasant surprise in present-day sports. Plus, he genuinely loves road trips, even if there’s no climbing at all.
Now, back in Spokane to continue his education, Johnny prefers to climb at the Main Wall at Deep Creek in Riverside State Park. He politely declines discussions about ratings, perhaps because it may sound too boastful, but he favors the most difficult climbing on the most overhanging sections of rock. He likes Motley Crux 5.14 for its sustained nature and other difficult routes like Dump Truck 5.12b and Quiver 5.13b for the challenge. He loves hard bouldering in the Tum Tum area and some uncommon but daring routes at Minnehaha. Still, that doesn’t mean he won’t climb fun and easy routes with his friends. Hanging out with friends is the highlight of every climbing outing, no matter what the grade or rating, and all of his climbing partners appreciate his enthusiasm whenever they meet their own climbing goals.
When pressed about his strengths and weaknesses, Johnny responded, “I would say my strengths in climbing would be powerful, gymnastic climbing, and a good ability to try hard. For my weaknesses, well … I try not to think about those. They will almost always hold you back.”
Brian Raymon adds, “I just don’t think people really know how good Johnny is. I mean he does things in weeks that might take other climbers years. I get sick just watching him push his limits, but at the same time, it’s inspiring.”
Perhaps Johnny’s greatest contributions to Spokane’s climbing legacy lie in the years to come. A handful of open projects-bolted routes that have never been climbed-still exist, and he’s the most likely candidate to climb them in the coming months. He also has his sights on a few other Inland Northwest crags he hasn’t visited yet like Laclede or some daring routes in western Montana. Yet for all of his accomplishments, Johnny is known in the climbing world not only for his exceptional talent, but also his modest personality and enthusiastic demeanor off the rock-an absolute inspiration to all who get the chance to climb with him.