Rock climbing since he was a child, Cam Horst later went through his teenage years building toward a goal after graduation from Manheim Township High School in 2019. He wanted to take a gap year between high school and college and try his hand at being a professional rock climber.
That goal went as expected through the first six months of being a pro.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
It put on hold Horst’s hopes to go overseas, where some of the highest-graded climbs in the world are found. It also resulted in a loss of potential profits from possible climbing clinics, festivals and trade shows.
But Horst’s sponsors stuck by him. That combined with the pandemic led to Horst putting off college for another year.
The decision paid off last month, when Horst completed his most difficult route at the Year 2 mark as a professional climber.
We should pause here briefly for the climbing novices to note that a route graded 5.14b is among the highest grades for a climb. Horst has already climbed around 40 routes graded 5.14a and higher.
The one Horst ascended May 23 is graded at 5.14d/15a, which Horst notes as 5.15a. The route itself is coined Bone Tomahawk. It’s located in a cave in Utah. Horst, 20, became just the fourth person to complete the route.
“It’s a lot of feelings at once,” Horst said of the accomplishment. “Doing this route on Bone Tomahawk was the longest time I’ve invested in climbing a route. ... It kind of becomes all you think about. Being able to complete that route is a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.”
The route was first discovered by Joe Kinder, who came across Fynn Cave when on a scouting trip for hunting in 2010. Kinder became the first to ascend the route in 2016.
Similar to a runner in training over the course of a few months in building up to a marathon, Horst began training for Bone Tomahawk in the months of February and March while back home in Lancaster. Horst stayed with Kinder in Utah in April and May, with Kinder providing guidance to Horst as he practiced parts of the route over the course of six weeks. On the day of the full climb, Horst ascended the route in about six minutes.
“The process of projecting the climb means figuring out the movement, the sequence of holds and footholds to get to the top of the climb,” Horst said. “The harder you go, the more complex that is, the projecting process takes longer.”
Horst has sponsorships from three climbing brands (La Sportiva, DMM and Maxim), a supplement company (Physivantage) and a climbing app (MyClimb). Horst is one of six people who works for Physivantage, which is owned and operated by father Eric Horst, an accomplished climber, author and climbing expert who has been dedicating more time to the growing supplement company since retiring last September as director of Millersville University’s Weather Information Center.
“It’s given me stuff to promote as I’ve been traveling as a professional climber,” Cam Horst said. “It’s something to do on the side other than training and climbing.”
As far as what’s next, Horst will spend the summer climbing routes in Colorado and Wyoming before enrolling at Penn State University in the fall.
"I want to have a degree in case I chop off my finger," Horst said. "I definitely want to study kinesiology so I can study the body and its movement. Ideally, I'd like to continue climbing and become a well-known coach. ...the industry is taking off now with how popular rock climbing is getting."
Horst will attend classes remotely in the fall, which will allow him the opportunity to travel overseas in October, with the goal to ascend one of the most famous routes known to climbers: Action Directe in Germany.
Next spring, Horst will continue to climb on the weekends while attending in-person classes at Penn State, training at a newly-opened climbing facility just off campus.
In the meantime, Horst hopes his recent completion of Bone Tomahawk will give him a boost in the climbing world.
“I’ve always been known in climbing,” Horst said. “But this (Bone Tomahawk) has led to a huge boost of media attention and huge support from friends in the climbing community. Maybe I can leverage my climbing even more. ... Hopefully in the next few months I can reach out to a big-name company and get a sponsorship or something like that."