Climbing started as a promise.
My first exposure to rock climbing came on a month long mountaineering course in the Wind River Mountain Range in Wyoming. But it wasn’t until an outing shortly thereafter, to the Overlook in White Rock, New Mexico with my brother and his comrades, that it really stuck.
We descended into the canyon that fall morning, carefully navigating the rocky knife edge, peering out and bearing witness to the Rio Grande River carving its way through the high desert landscape in the distance. The descent into the crag was unforgettable—a Georgia Okeefeesque painting of the desert southwest splayed open.
That day I clung to the rock as if my life depended on it—as I had yet to fully trust the systems in place—ropes, belay devices and even belayer! I expended every ounce of energy and focus clinging to the basalt face that day. The fear and exhilaration drained me completely. It was a new found exhaustion from deep within my core that I had never experienced before. Afterward, my brother gifted me my first harness, and his friend gave me a pair of climbing shoes, on one condition: that I continue to climb rocks.
Carving out the time to take on this new activity, one that simultaneously allured and frightened me, helped blossom a whole new mindset that would prove useful throughout my life.
At the dawn of a new decade of my personal journey, I have begun to notice a direct correlation between my mental and emotional stability, overall health, and rock climbing. I can attribute a feeling of greater inner peace, self confidence, and methodical thought processes to my long relationship to the sport.
Climbing pushes me to be very clear about my abilities. If anything, I have noticed I have a tendency to underestimate them. I’m not one to take unnecessary risk or put myself or others in danger (I have climbed long enough to see what happens to those that do). That said, my calculating mind does like to put together sequences of movement, trust in my foot work, and harness the conviction that I can get through a hard set of moves to arrive at the top.
The repetition of being confronted with an obstacle, finding a creative way to move through it—or not—and falling to have to give it another try has been a regimented training of the mind, perhaps more so than the body. My mantra is stick with it. Be methodical and precise. Stay calm. Trust in the process. Breathe.
Climbing forces me to overcome challenges that make me uncomfortable or scared. The more I climb and overcome, the more I believe in my own strength. Earlier this year when I needed to make an important shift in my life I had the skills and faith in my ability to stay strong and move through the fear, because climbing has shown me that I can. This is a very empowering state. I feel fortunate to have cultivated the proper tools to be able to make changes when the time calls. In times of great challenge, I find myself gravitating towards the rock. The rock is my rock.
In our daily lives we face a lot of static noise that holds no productive value but takes up too much space in our minds and hearts. Learning how to recognize the static noise is a critical skill if we want to tune it out and focus on feeling empowered.
Many turn to meditation as a means of quieting their brain, but I scale rock. Learning to lose myself in search of the perfect foot placement, or unlocking a sequence of movement is where I find my clarity. It’s how I chart my growth and become better equipped to handle life’s challenges.
Little did I comprehend at the young age of 17 that my passion for climbing would shape and heal me over time. Climbing has proven to be one of my greatest assets, positively impacting my overall emotional and psychological wellbeing.
And all that, on a promise. Investing in an activity that promotes not only confidence and strength, but also inner quiet, has given me the foundation for leading a fulfilling life. The simple act of scaling rocks has trained my mind to never give up. It has helped me reclaim my power and let go of the fear and mind based blocks that get in the way of true joy and peace. What are your blocks? How do you quiet your mind and approach challenges? What is your rock?
There will always be endless rock faces to scale and new peaks to summit, literally and figuratively. And we usually hike up, but not always. Every once in a while, as in the Verdon Gorge in France, or that fateful New Mexico trip with my brothers, we descend into the gorge to then climb out. We go down deep, getting closer to our core before ascending.
This is where my true strength lies. I remind myself to stay agile and quick on my feet. Always be thinking two to three moves ahead. And don’t forget to look up and take it all in! You’ll get there—but savor the undulating journey and majestic landscapes en route.