Sports are competitive… even if you’re not competing with anyone, and for that, I’m not much of an athlete.
While it’s great that climbers have pushed the limits making climbing a recognized sport, for me, I guess I’m old school — I love climbing for the places it takes me, physically and emotionally. For me, it’s not a sport. It’s a lesson.
I got into climbing to have something productive to do with my sister. I was 29, and thought that when I hit 30, I should start being more responsible for my health.
At the time, climbing was just a gym thing for me. I never considered getting outdoors. Plus, I didn’t really know anyone that did. I was working for an action sports media company and got some free leggings, shoes and a chalk bag. I was set to boulder.
I think I gave it about three months before I stopped, mostly because life got busy. My then-boyfriend and I split. I changed jobs. I moved, twice. And even found a new relationship. That year and a half flew by, for better and worse.
Then I found myself, over 30 with a whole new career, new job and moving again… and single. It was like I was back where I started at 29. It was the perfect time to start something else or restart something old. I found a new gym, a bigger gym, a top rope gym. It was 10 minutes from my new apartment. I signed up for a year-long membership and auto renewal — because that’s how I figured I would make myself stick to it.
To be honest, it wasn’t the best experience. I didn’t know anyone, and unlike my last gym, a small mom-and-pop bouldering gym, this one wasn’t as communal.
Then I met a guy, and despite everything my mom taught me about stranger danger, I let him to take me to the middle of nowhere, aka Alabama Hills, to climb some rocks. It was my first outdoor climbing experience. I was hooked, in more than one way.
First, this adorable man was taking me to some really weird ass places. I was intrigued by this backyard that I never knew was there and the people that lived and thrived in the adventure. I also found conquering routes extremely empowering. And I admit, when I met my new boyfriend, I had just left my ex-boyfriend — a relationship that left me extremely broken and untrusting. The trips, the climbs, the newness gave me this sense of empowerment. That maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t something that was so easily thrown away. Actually, maybe, I was something pretty awesome.
It’s been an interesting journey. But it wasn’t always sunshine and butterflies.
It became difficult to climb hard after the initial shock of newness wore off. I was scared of a lot of things: heights, falling, looking stupid… Unexpectedly, I also found it hard to climb with him. He was overly protective, which was cute… except when I just wanted to do something a little out of my realm of experience. The girls I had met early on were also difficult to handle. When I would tell them that my first climb was a month ago or however long, it was like I pulled a trigger and threatened their greatness. Everything became a competition. I grew frustrated with the experience. I began taking his concerns and their comments personally and those old insecurities crept back in. I started feeling like I wasn’t good enough.
One weekend, he was off on another adventure. I wanted to find my own. Luckily, one of his good friend’s girlfriend was one of those kinds of girls who’s always stoked to get out. She promised a climbing trip I wouldn’t forget.
When I first met Christine, I didn’t think much of her. She was my guy’s friend’s girlfriend. She climbed and she climbed well. I kept my distance because my experience with other female climbers hadn’t been positive. It wasn’t until our second or third group trip that I let her in.
We were in Holcomb Valley and there was a route — I can’t even remember which or what rating — but it had this really cool slab start and I wanted to climb the slab. I remember getting to the top of the portion I wanted to climb and asked to get back down. Everyone told me to keep going, so I did. But, I got stuck… and I was terrified. I remember being on the wall for a really long time, so long most of the group got bored and stopped watching. But, Christine started yelling things at me. Telling me I could do it and giving me all kinds of beta. I wanted to cry when I got to the top of that route and I’m pretty sure I peed a little, too. But that was the day I realized, this chick is cool.
So while he was gone, Christine packed me in her van and drove me up to Idyllwild. She said it was just a mile hike… a 1,000 feet vertical mile. Unfortunately, for her I’m a horrible hiker and it look hours to complete that mile, and she carried all the gear and rope. When we got to the crag, she sat me down and explained the plan.
In short: Tahquitz, Fingertip Traverse.
“It’s a multi pitch,” she said.
“We’ll climb trad. When we get to this spot, I’ll build an anchor, belay you up and show you how to build one.”
Here’s the thing, I probably only climbed for two or three months at this point. I hadn’t even led belayed anyone. But according to Christine, it was fine because she would show me. And she did.
And we climbed.
I didn’t get to leading anything, but the entire day was so bizarre to me. I couldn’t believe I was doing anything I was doing. We met a group of guys on the climb that we followed up. They were all stoked that this was my first multi pitch climb, and when we all got stuck at a belay station near the top, we reminisced about the pitches we just completed like old friends. When I freaked out about the fingertip traverse portion of the Fingertip Traverse route, they all high-fived me like I just joined this exclusive club.
On the hike down, my feet were killing me in my climbing shoes. It was so painful, it took me just as long as the hike up. One of the guys stayed behind and hiked with me. We talked about our significant others. He told me something that I’ll never forget.
When he first met his wife, he told me they would adventure together, too. But then he took her on something more than she could handle and came to the realization that he shouldn’t do that. She freaked out. It made her uncomfortable and ultimately, his concern for her made the adventure less of an adventure. He said now when he has this urge to do something crazy, he calls up his boys and gets it out of his system. With his wife, he just has fun.
After that day, climbing was a little different for me. I just wanted to have fun. Yes, I did want to progress, but mostly I just wanted to climb fun routes. I didn’t care about the rating, just the challenge. I didn’t care about how I climbed it, just that I did. It’s like I learned how to love climbing. I saw it’s ugliness and it’s beauty and decided to just take the good. The guy, the girls, the routes… I’ll just take the good.