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Judge always reaching for new heights

Rock climbing is a 20-year passion for District Court jurist

Let’s play a free-association word game. If I say “judge” you say … “rock climber.”

OK, maybe not.

But Judge Alisa Hadfield says the two really do go together.

“You can carry over the principles of climbing into anything,” she said.

Hadfield, 45, has been an avid climber since her mid-20s. She moved to New Mexico in 1996 and has worked — among other things — as a prosecutor and public defender before being appointed District Court Judge assigned to the Family Court Domestic Violence Division in December 2010. She is running for re-election in November.

Hadfield says that while her job and family obligations have limited her climbing time recently, she finds the sport is a great stress reliever.

“Some people garden … I rock climb,” she said recently during an interview at Stone Age Climbing Gym.

She says her job involves divorce, child custody and domestic violence cases, which can be difficult enough. But many times, there is abuse of drugs or alcohol as contributing factors.

“It can be awfully depressing,” she said. But she said she went into law as a way to help people, so dealing with the stress and staying positive is very important.

She finds the demands of climbing particularly helpful to reduce stress and to keep a clear head. During her years as a public defender — with heavy case loads and disturbing cases — she climbed most weekends.

“I found that when I was climbing, I wouldn’t think about work. I was just thinking about not falling. And I was developing skills of commitment and discipline. That is what I try to carry into my work.”

She says she also appreciates climbing as a “puzzle to be solved” — referring to the calculated moves a climber needs to make to get to the top of any given route — and the tenacity it takes to ascend a cliff.

Rock climbing is also a great sport to drive home the lesson that mindset is very important.

“Our minds can hold us back,” she says, “developing that ‘can-do attitude’ you need in climbing, well, you can turn that into anything.”

One of her favorite places to climb in New Mexico is the Enchanted Tower near Datil — a challenging piece of welded tuff, rock composed of the debris from past volcanic eruptions. Many consider it to be the best sport climbing in the state.

Her other favorite area is a few miles north of El Rito. She says she loves the town and the climbing reminds her of another favorite spot — Maple Canyon in Utah.

Hadfield, along with a half-dozen other climbers, spent time in the late 1990s developing routes on the El Rito crags.

“It was intense and it was hard work,” she said. “But also very satisfying.”

She said the setting of routes such as “Bolting Barbie” and “Just Another Pretty Face” in El Rito was a way for her to contribute something to the climbing community.

“It was a whole new experience for me,” she said. “(Route setting is) not about a personal accomplishment. It’s about making something nice that climbers will enjoy.”