Climbing is Not a Solo Sport

While listening to Kathy Karlo‘s newest endeavor, a podcast of the same name as her blog, one of the stories heard in the trailer mentioned the speaker’s fear with climbing. In his brief story the man relates that his fear of climbing seemed to dissipate after an exceptionally hard break up. Perhaps the best thing about Kathy’s podcast is that it isn’t one person’s horrendous experience in the world and how it relates to climbing, but a multitude of stories, some of which are more directly relatable than others, but each one personal and individual.

Before I left the south east I began lead climbing again. I went to the New River Gorge and put up routes with my mom and some friends from DC, I met up with two of the best women on Tuesday nights to get on ropes with the intention that we would face our various fears together, I went to Las Vegas and sent my first 10a on lead while climbing with another friend, I started sending highballs (one highball). What I remember clearly, and with such joy, was that every time I got scared by climbing, it was one less moment I was preoccupied with the end of a four year relationship I had invested so much of my energy into. It was an unexpected step in reclaiming my own life. When I was in the relationship, that fear seemed all encompassing. It prevented me from doing a lot of things that I now enjoy.


Heading up some route at the New River Gorge. Photo by Joanne Baste.

I always thought climbing with my significant other was the best. Our first climbing trip together ended up being just the two of us romping around the Red River Gorge for a week and I was elated. I did my first ever route on lead our last day there, because I was with him and wanted to impress him. Over the years, and especially looking back, it was actually awful. With my goal being complete honesty and the knowledge that we still have mutual friends: he was an absolutely terrible climbing partnerĀ for me.

I do not play team sports. Never have. Climbing, however, is far from a solo pursuit. There is a beautiful and supportive community within it that every time I push myself outside that well defined comfort zone, I hear the voices of the women and men who have pushed me to be where I am today. Not once do those voices include my ex. His voice, along with the rest of him, has slipped far away from my mind (for the most part)- replaced by ABBA lyrics, my girlfriends coaching me through hard boulders, and their smiling faces when I look down nervously from the sharp end.

Ally working up a highball v2 in Joes.

Recently, while climbing in Joes Valley, a friend of mine and I stumbled upon a fun looking boulder, moderately tall but easy looking. I on-sighted it. She later told me it was a v2 (I’ve climbed harder v1s at Stone Fort). The following weekend, I scrambled up a v4 slab involving a hand foot match that I wouldn’t call a lowball problem. Last weekend I ran up easy routes with another girlfriend and a fellow coach from Atlanta. So yes, perhaps the break up was the unfortunate and aggravating catalyst to remind me that I am a climber. I can go out on weekends to navigate new crags, I can put up my own routes, and I can subdue my fear while pebble wrestling long enough to pull moves I know I can do. The reality though, is that I have replaced a negative community, one that drained me, with a new one. One that lifts me up, cheers me on, spots me, keeps their eyes on me while I’m climbing, and doesn’t walk away while I’m cleaning routes. I left the crag last weekend- hiking out with bruises, a million photos, old friends, and too many ropes with a new found sense of community.

Kind of happy on lead in Maple Canyon, UT. Photo by Cora Pursley.

If you’re interested in supporting another community, the women of the southeast have created an all new guiding experience focused on promoting women’s strength through rock climbing, you can donate to their Indie GoGo campaign and empower more women here.

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