In Climbing, News

Jon grew up in San Diego and thought competitive swimming would be his calling, until he ditched the Speedo for a harness and fell in love with rock climbing.

At EVO Rock + Fitness Louisville, his job description entails Retail Manager (arguably the most important, since it involves stocking the cookies), Assistant Manager, and now, EVO Mountain Guides.  Let’s learn all the things: 

Hi Jon, ready for this compelling interview?

Can I get a cookie first?

Mmmm kay. (Jon goes to get cookie. Gives me a piece.) So Jon, where’d you grow up?

San Diego.

What was that like?

Really moist.


No, San Diego was awesome. I really enjoyed growing up in an environment where there was a lot of competition. My father was very competitive—he was a very accomplished triathlete—and I spent most my youth swimming. I was a Junior Lifeguard and competitive swimmer.

And then you thought: Forget this chlorine and show me some granite. Where was your first, “Oh-my-God, I love rock climbing” place?

I don’t know…one of those classic crags right outside of LA probably. There’s this one rock just outside the city limits of Los Angeles, but I can’t even tell you anything beyond that.

What kind of climbing did you first fall in love with?

Initially, I really liked the shiny things of climbing, so, I thought I didn’t want to do anything but climb big walls. I thought the physics of climbing was cool. A little later, I realized it was simply the movement of climbing. And I thought, ‘Ok, I want to do this a lot more.’ I was 17.


// From Potato Chips to Permit Applications: Jon Sullivan + EVO Mountain Guides

Then what?

Then, I decided to try my damnedest to figure out a way to enroll in a semester with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) which took a lot to figure out financially. Ultimately, NOLS paved the way for the rest of my life, and showed me that maybe going to college was not what I wanted to do anymore. In a weird way, it inspired me to drop out two years into my four year degree.

Nice! Does that mean you get student rates for life, since you never actually graduated?

I’m not sure…I should really look into that.

Totally. So what happened when you got back from NOLS? 

I realized I wanted to pursue a more satisfying career path, so I joined Search and Rescue. At first I didn’t realize it was volunteer basis…I thought I could make it a career (laughter); I quickly learned that was not accurate at all. I stuck it out for several years, loving it, and honed in on technical skills.

From there, I decided I wanted to pursue a professional path in guiding. I had to navigate between being a summer camp counselor to being a full fledge rock guide, which is a hard thing to figure out. It’s easy to fall into being a camp counselor forever.

Sounds like it was a good stepping stone though. You enrolled in an American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) program, correct?

Yes. Once I decided I wanted to pursue guiding professionally, I was led to the American Mountain Guide Association. From there, I got my AMGA SPI course done. I waited a year for the certification process. During the year of waiting, I got a job with Avid4 Adventure.


// From Potato Chips to Permit Applications: Jon Sullivan + EVO Mountain Guides

I remember sitting atop the Elephant Buttress in Boulder Canyon with a hand-line on a bomber tree over the lip of the crag.

I remember sitting there, with the wind sweeping through the canyon, and I could see the road and hear the creek. I thought, ‘Ok, this is literally it. This is the best job I’ve ever had.’  That was almost eight years ago, but I’ll never forget the moment where I thought ‘this is what I have to do forever.’

Six years went by and I worked as the Climbing Supervisor and helped them open sites in California.

So you were really with Avid for a long time.

Yes, they really allowed me to build a solid foundation. Avid allowed me to transition into something like this role at EVO.

Somewhere along the way, you became a dirtbag. I know this because you live outside the gym. When did that happen?

At one point I owned a house. I was living in my truck while I renovated the home, and then met my wife, Michelle who had also been living in her van during that time. It very quickly and organically became this mutual symbiotic life; the truck became the gear shed and the van became the apartment. I sold the house.

Aww it’s a lil Dirtbag love story. Let’s move on, and talk about the present. You’ve semi-launched this new branch of EVO Rock + Fitness, called EVO Mountain Guides. Tell me more.


// From Potato Chips to Permit Applications: Jon Sullivan + EVO Mountain Guides

Ultimately I see EVO Mountain Guides being an incredible staple for the local community. We offer everything from single-pitch cragging, to big wall preparation,  to technical rappels, to placing gear, to family outings; these are all bases we can cover.

That’s not to say we’re stepping on any local toes; we’re great friends with Colorado Mountain School.  If someone wants to climb the Diamond, we’ll say, ‘Great, go see our buddies at CMS.

Who is “we” exactly? Who else has EVO included in this adventurous addition? 

We’ve brought on a small, talented group of guides with AMGA credentials in various practices. This means can do winter courses in ice climbing and/or avalanche courses in the near future.

Screaming barfies, coming our way. You mentioned the local community—what can you say about the EVO climbing hub so far? 

That it’s amazing. This places means so much to me already, and I love the passion that we all share. This environment isn’t just catering to recreation; we’re catering to everything that climbing life encompasses. We want to teach, we want to empower, we want to get you strong, and we want to get you outside.

It must be said that going outside means serious incorporation of Leave No Trace (LNT) principles.  There are enough bumblers out there; that is not what we want to create.  EVO Mountain Guides is about climbing etiquette, respecting the land, saving our crags, and appreciating what has been freely given to us.  There’s no way I would feel okay launching a program that takes people to these areas without education and heavy emphasis on LNT.

That makes me very happy to hear. I suppose we should wrap this up so you can get back to planning. I’ll end with this question: What’s your favorite component of your role at EVO LOU?

Oh man…I guess I love that my job involves everything from potato chips to permit applications for technical guiding.

From potato chips to permits…I like it. 

If you want Jon to help you create a custom climbing day, send him an email at and/or visit the EVO Mountain Guides page. 


// From Potato Chips to Permit Applications: Jon Sullivan + EVO Mountain Guides
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