“I began a lifelong love affair with a pile of rock.” ~ Edward Abbey
Growing up I had never heard the words “rock climber” uttered and, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t actually aware that it was a sport that people dedicated their lives to. I come from a pretty conservative family. It was all about putting your nose to the grind, getting on with what you needed to do, and not drawing attention to yourself. I did spend time outdoors, but mainly on the small trails around my neighborhood where I would do short jogs or hikes. I even spent half of my childhood living by a National Park right near the Rocky Mountains, but I generally just accepted the mountains as beautiful scenery without a second thought to the possibility that they could be a playground for a bold minority of people.
So when I finally discovered the pull of the mountains on my first mountain hike five years ago, and then realized the addictive nature of climbing rock only a few seasons ago, my world shifted. There was a meditative quality to pushing upwards against gravity, an intense focus that I had never felt before. Through immersing myself in that world of stone, ropes, and mental clarity I understood the desire to leave everything behind and live only for that next climb. I came to appreciate the feeling that sweeps so many people off of their feet.
However, that’s not to say that climbing has come easy to me, especially starting late in life. When you pick up an activity on the verge of turning 30, especially one where fear preys so heavily on your mind and often succeeds at stopping you in your tracks, you need to find mechanisms to overcome that fear of falling and the fear of failing. You learn that the fear of never trying needs to be greater than the others. I focused on that when I became determined to push myself further.
Most of my fear came from a lack of understanding and knowledge. The only way I could see to remedy this was through gaining experience and learning from those that were more experienced than I was. Needless to say I jumped at every opportunity to learn and didn’t hesitate to sign up for the Advanced Sport Climbing clinic hosted by Jonathan Siegrist as part of the Arc’teryx Climbing Academy in Squamish, BC a few weeks ago. I would be learning from one of the top rock climbers in the world, and as I have often found, being led by a guide or by someone far more experienced always encourages me to push harder than I normally would on my own.
When I got to the clinic I was quite nervous to climb in front of a group of strangers, not feeling good enough to be part of the Advanced group; the usual lack of confidence bubbled to the surface. But as soon as we met under that first crag, we all had a chance to talk about ourselves, our abilities, and what our goal for the day was. No matter our objective, whether it was to climb harder than we ever had before, focus on technique or just have fun, Jonathan and the other excellent guide, Jeremy Blumel, were there to support us.
Once we split up based on objectives for the day, I was in a group with one other woman, three men, and our instructor, Jonathan Siegrist. If there is one thing I can say about climbing is that I never feel inequality because I am a woman. Out there we were all climbers; the stone didn’t care about our gender and neither did we. To Jonathan it was all about getting us excited to climb, passing on his expertise, and helping us improve as well as we could.
To get us warmed up we set our sights on a moderate climb, well below the usual grade that you would imagine someone like Jonathan would choose. However, when he got on the rock it was mesmerizing. He didn’t treat like it was so below his ability that he should be able to just run up it. Instead he moved methodically and thoughtfully with each step and every handhold; he put focus into each movement. He climbed with flow, without hesitation, and with a confident pace. Just watching his movement on the rock was inspiring and made me think about my own climbing method.
Slowly we kept increasing the grade of the climbs until we reached a climb that I knew was harder than anything else I had ever tried before. After watching Jonathan and a few of the others give it a go, and with a newfound courage, I decided to just go for it. This climb was not without it’s difficulties (I fell multiple times and was scared more than once). Upon finally reaching the top, almost at the point of absolute inability to hold on any longer, I knew that I had achieved something, not just physically but mentally. When I returned to the bottom I confessed to Jonathan that was the hardest sport climb I had ever attempted to lead, which he answered with a fist pump and a huge congratulatory smile.
Spring McClurg is a climber, traveler, writer, and outdoorswoman extraordinaire. Read more from her here.