Climb On

Wednesday Nov. 3rd, 2010

There was a time I considered myself a totally “radical” climber – too cool even for myself.  I’m a female first of all, only 4’11’’ and there I was excelling at this extreme sport that was completely challenging both physically and emotionally. I found myself conquering multi-pitch climbs, setting my own anchors, and even leading trad! I was living the dream! I was in college In Boulder, Colorado. I had free time. To say it was my obsession was an understatement! I felt strong and confident! I’d travel far and wide to get to the next rock – We did everything locally we could get to – Boulder Canyon, Lookout Mountain, Balanced Rock; then travelled to all the climbing paradises in our surrounding areas, i.e. Vedauwoo, Wyoming. I played strong for years! Eventually, we moved to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and then continued west to Big Sky, Montana.

So, it’s Sunday afternoon and friends invite me to go climbing in Gallatin Canyon. This wouldn’t have been unusual at all, except this time years have passed, and now somehow it’s literally been about ten years since my last climb. How did this happen? How is this possible? It was just life – I moved away from Boulder. I got a full time job. I got into a relationship. I had a baby. Priorities changed.
Suddenly, it’s literally been about 10 years, and my friends say, “Let’s go climbing!” Immediately and without hesitation I’m like, “Yeah!” Honestly, I had no idea how it would go. I had all these crazy thoughts – Will it come back to me? Am I still strong? Will I panic? I don’t know, but “Go for it!” I believe once you are a climber it’s in your blood, so I added to my response, “Absolutely!”
The one good thing I think time has given me is a stronger sense of self – of who I am. I’m much more internally balanced and grounded than I’ve ever been, and the phrase, “NO FEAR” has taken on new meaning.

So here I am presently, 10 years later – and I’m going climbing. It’s a beautiful, sunny day in the Canyon, and we start hiking to the approach. I’d forgotten what a pain that part can be, especially if it’s a long hike and technically difficult. Friends at the lead, backpack full of gear, and I’m good to go. We start at 35mi/hr. bridge – Under the bridge, around the river, through the woods, then straight up! The pitch is intense, with minimal switchbacks. As I started to think the hike alone might kill me, I wonder if I’m in over my head. But, I’m committed, my heads already in the game. So I put one foot in front of the other and I “suck it up!”

To my friend’s credit they were “TOTALLY FREAKIN’ AWESOME!!!” They were encouraging from the start, and they gave me much appreciated inspiration and confidence.

So, there I was at the end of the hike – throwing off my pack with determination  – staring face up at my destiny. I watched my partner trad lead up the face like a spider, and I thought the classic lie climbers tell themselves all the time, “This doesn’t look so bad.” When it’s my turn I’m ready – I want this, I can feel it in my bones. Climbing shoes on – I forgot how uncomfortable these things are – Harnessed in; On Belay!  Climbing!

The hard start humbles me instantaneously, as I flail around for a minute having literally no idea where to begin. The moves are there, but it’s funky – atypical holds, the lines aren’t clear, the balance is unusual. To my credit, they chose a 5.9 plus for my first route in 10 years. “Sucking it up” is now becoming a part of my day. I don’t give up!  I work it out!

So, there I was on the rock, and no joke – about three moves in there’s an overhang.  I look down at my friends and I’m like, “Really?” But something happens to you when you climb – I don’t know, maybe it’s just me – but, it becomes deeper than a passion and I’m determined. I go into this zone of alternate reality where I tell myself intuitively that at all costs – I will get up that rock!

The humor of all this head stuff is that it’s all your own demons and drama – my friends are at the bottom enjoying the day, having snacks, and probably wondering how long they’re going to have me on belay.

So I’m muscling it up, doing everything that I know absolutely not to do – climbing with my hands, not working my feet, and I’m freakin’ exhausted! I’m thanking God and my personal trainer that I have the strength to continue, but I’m sore and I’m totally pumped! Every muscle in my body hurts, and I realize – I’m only half way. I look at the top and I make a choice – I will do whatever it takes to reach the summit, and I am NOT going down.

As if my body recognizes my temporary insanity, suddenly it remembers everything I’d forgotten – trust your feet – balance – focus! Before I know it, I am sliding my feet up, and climbing well – I’m using hand jams, I’m balancing on minute footholds. Suddenly, I realize I made it! I’m, like, there! I’m at the top! I was freakin’ psyched!!

The sense of empowerment you get in that moment of a summit gives you such a rush it can give you a whole new perspective on life – either that or it’s loss of blood cells.  But then I remembered why I love to climb so much. It’s about so much more than the physical climb. It’s about who I become when I climb – CONFIDENT, PATIENT, FOCUSED, STRONG, PERSEVERENT, PASSIONATE!
Then I remember, if this is who I am on the rock, this is who I am!

“Suck it up!” “Keep moving forward!” “Climb on!” – Not bad for a Sunday afternoon in the canyon!

Christine Adams is a counselor in Bozeman and in Big Sky, Montana. She enjoys climbing, hiking, mountain biking and generally, enjoying the area!