It’s official: I’ve been climbing for two years. Now you’re probably thinking wow she’s still a newbie. I am. I still don’t have enough confidence in my placements to fall on gear. I haven’t sent 5.14. Or 5.13. Or even my first 5.12 yet. However, I’ve been dreaming of rocks and occasionally plastic since a high school friend convinced me to go to our local—read it’s basically a barn—gym in Quechee, Vermont, a week before my freshman year of college.
This first non-fifth-grade-birthday-party gym experience was WAY harder than I expected. I had never understood what all those tape strips on the wall were for. I promptly learned. And struggled. A lot. I considered myself in-shape, having run four years of varsity cross country in high school, for which training included lifting 5 pound dumbbells a few times each year. My 5k times did little to help me up each route, and I fell at least 11 times on each of the 25-foot 5.8s I tried. The little muscle I’d gained bussing tables that summer was the only thing that got me up the wall a measly four times before I could no longer lift my arms. But I liked the feeling of going up. I also wanted a new identity in college, not the straight-A, type-A, runner I’d been known as in high school. The University of New Hampshire club climbing team seemed like the answer; they didn’t cut anyone.
A lot has happened in two years. I’ve sent a few 5.11s, bouldered one V5- (yes, I’m a highly unimpressive boulderer), and plugged a few pieces gear. But those aren’t the most important things. I’ve gotten to sample sandstone and limestone in Colorado, shred my skin on slopers in Horse Pens 40, toprope wet sandstone at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, boulder in Pawtuckaway State Park and Lincoln Woods, place cams on Cathedral, clean my way up Cannon and in Acadia, and discover the my favorite 5.11b in Maine’s Evan’s notch. I’ve broken my ankle, had bicep tendonitis in both my right shoulder and right elbow, and potentially broke my hand projecting a traverse. I even interned at a climbing magazine—that’s when you know you’re obsessed. Though I left the UNH climbing team after my freshman year, choosing to put all of my extra time into climbing outdoors, I’ve retained my love of climbing absolutely anything—slabs, roofs, vertical crimps, plastic, trees, buildings. Climbing combines all my favorite things: being outside, going up, pushing myself physically, using my mind, and being with friends.
So what have I learned in two years? Obviously the basics: how to tie a figure 8, how to lead belay, how to avoid putting my harness on upside down and twisted. But I’ve also found an activity to keep me sane. I’m still just as type-A as I was in high school, but I have something that allows me to forget about classes, family conflicts, grocery shopping, and all the other cares in life that demand my attention most of the time. I’ve learned that the best friends I have are those who say yes every time I wake them up at 6:30 in the morning on a whim, hoping they’ll want to drive to Rumney with me. I’ve learned that when life seems like too much and I’ve worked myself into a stress-induced state of mania, an afternoon Pawtuckaway bouldering session is the remedy for putting the importance of essays and German exams back into their non-life-or-death place. I’ve learned that with a little time management, an assignment book, and occasional sleeplessness, one can climb outside every weekend while taking five college classes and working two jobs. I’ve also learned that sometimes you climb ten pitches and other times you climb two in the rain, but I never regret a day I’ve gone out and at least attempted to climb.
Originally published September 7, 2015, on coffeetapeibuprofenclimb.blogspot.com.