I had the opportunity to go to Leavenworth this past weekend with some of my more experienced friends. Although it felt a little intimidating to go with people who are way better at climbing than I am, I had been asking for months to go on a climbing trip with them, and was not going to pass up the opportunity.
The trip turned out to be a bunch of boys and myself. Being a girl on a “guys” climbing trip was interesting to say the least, and a whole different kind of fun. As much as I love climbing with my girls, it was a nice balance to get out with the boys. Something about being one of the guys for a weekend does something to center a girl. The boys reminded me to not to take life so seriously, fart and poop jokes are still funny as an adult, and that you definitely need thick skin to hang with the guys.
For several reasons, this trip represents a huge milestone in my climbing journey. I advanced in my climbing experience by lead climbing on traditional gear and climbing my first multi-pitch route. I also learned something new about myself and learned even more about the sport of climbing and what it means to be a climber.
Moving forward with my climbing was not accomplished by my own means. I had an experienced friend, James Higgins*, who set the route and let me top rope climb to get comfortable with the route. He left the gear in place, and on my second pass up the route, I decided to try lead climbing. I don’t think I actually thanked him for taking time out of his climbing on this trip, to help my new friend Emily* and I become better climbers. (So if you’re reading this James thank you, you transformed my thoughts of climbing by taking time to teach me to lead climb.)
This trip was mostly a boy’s trip, so I was relieved to find out another girl, Emily, would be meeting us in Leavenworth. Emily and I, being the only girls, became quick friends. When we started climbing, we realized we had really similar climbing skills, which was awesome considering we were surrounded by amazing climbers. We became each other’s cheerleaders, supporting each other as we challenged ourselves. Emily also completed her first lead climb on the same route.
As good as it felt to overcome a challenge and learn to lead climb, I can’t say me it was accomplished without a moment of doubt. Just as I was getting ready to start my first lead climb, my other really experienced friend, Colt Fetters*, decided this was the proper moment to ask if I was sure I could do it. Though I knew he was just concerned about my safety, I was a little annoyed by his timing. Looking back I am really glad he did. He made me question if I really could do it. Though Emily was cheering me on, at my first clip all I could think was am I really ready to do this?
I decided to trust my own body. Only I know its capabilities, only I know and can set my limits, and I was ready to push myself onto a new level of climbing. Not only did I trust my own body, I trusted James, my belayer to catch me. My life was in my hands, and if I failed they were in his capable hands. The climb ended up going smoothly, but I took more than just new climbing skills away from this adventure. I left that climb knowing I could trust myself and trust someone else with my life. I was proud I didn’t let my friends’ concern talk me out of something I knew I was ready for. Trusting my body and myself made climbing an open door of opportunities that I couldn’t wait to delve into. It made all the climbing adventures I have always dreamed of tangible. I will always remember getting back to the bottom and Higgins telling me that climb was something to be proud of and that he was impressed.
After getting my first taste of what felt like real climbing I couldn’t wait to try every form of this sport I am falling in love with. So when my friend Colt asked if I wanted to try an easy multi-pitch I really had no choice but to say yes. We decided to climb Midway, a route on Chimney Rock. While Colt and I were preparing for the climb, he explained the tradition of tying into together. It is about recognizing your life is in another person’s hands, and choosing to trust each other. It was humbling to become a part of a sport that was bigger than just me and a friend climbing up a route together. This sport and this rock had history, and being a part of the tradition of multi-pitch climbers made me think.
While I was sitting on top of Jello Tower (the top of the first pitch), lead belaying Colt, while he climbed up to the top of the second pitch I had a moment of clarity. I realized that I wanted climbing to be a part of my life forever. I wanted more. Climbing for me is becoming an integral part of my being. It was no longer just a sport to me, but had become an expression of self.
I realized on this trip, a huge part of climbing is the people you choose to climb with; the people you choose to trust with your life and to learn from as climbers and as friends. Climbing is not just about getting to the top of some rock, it’s spreading the knowledge. People don’t just become climbers, they are taught those skills by other climbers. It is about “Spreading the stoke” as Higgins would say. The guys who taught me all these great new skills learned from someone else, and one day I hope to pass it on and teach others to climb.
(Check out my Interview with Colt Fetters for more information on how he got started and where he is now as a climber.)
I asked the guys on the trip when you get to call yourself a real climber. And I think my friend James Ellis* summed it up simply and beautifully. James said that “being a real climber isn’t about how hard you climb or how many climbs or summits you have under your belt. Being a climber isn’t an option, you don’t want to climb you have to climb.”
I don’t know if I’m there yet, but I know my body craves climbing. My subconscious dreams about it and I love the sport. So here’s to exploring my climbing addiction.
*Names Used with Permission