3 Lessons I Learned in Squamish

Well, you might be interested in knowing how the trip to Squamish went after my post last Friday. I was struggling with the idea of not loving climbing as much as I did when I first started a few years back, mostly due to an increasing fear factor while doing it.

I can’t really explain logically why I’ve been facing more fear while climbing lately. Fear in climbing (and in general) isn’t linear  you don’t start at 100 and then slowly drop to zero as you improve your skills.

I’d venture to say that this is true of most scary things: public speaking, jumping off of tall rocks into water, shooting a free-throw in a packed gym, or pitching a new idea to your boss. In fact, I’d say that when I first started climbing, I was too ignorant of the risks and details to be afraid of anything going wrong, and once I learned what could go wrong, I began allowing myself to fixate. Not good.

Truth be told, climbing isn’t any more dangerous than any other sport, and since safety is always at the forefront of your mind, the likelihood of making a mistake while doing it is much lower than rolling your ankle in a volleyball game or running into a wall on the racquetball court.

All this is to say … drum roll please … I’m BACK in the game.

lessons learned in Squamish about personal growth and facing fear

The trip was amazing; the perfect way to re-energize my enthusiasm for my sport. Squamish is the most user-friendly climbing destination I’ve ever visited. In an area called Smoke Bluffs, they even have signage marking individual routes! (For those of you who don’t climb, this is UNHEARD OF anywhere else.) It’s truly amazing, and because all the major rock formations are so close together, we were able to really pack it in. Over the course of 5 days (we had one day where weather stopped us from climbing), we probably climbed 25 to 30 pitches.

And now the big question: Do I care about multi-pitch climbing?

My big hesitation on this trip was really centered on multi-pitch climbing and the discomfort and uncertainty that can sometimes accompanies it. If there are climbing gods who were reading my mind at the outset of this trip, they responded by giving me and Loren our very first drama-free, perfect multi-pitch climbing experience. With every pitch bolted on a 6-pitch, low-angle, relatively easy climb, we sailed it! No dropped gear, no tangled rope, no treacherous descent, and PERFECT weather. I had my head the whole time, even on some of the more exposed moves! I was able to fully enjoy myself and appreciate that exercise in mental toughness that I value so much once again!

lessons learned lessons learned in Squamish about personal growth and facing fear

At the top of Memorial Crack, an extra pitch we added to our 6 pitch climb on the apron of the Chief

This isn’t to say that I expect every multi-pitch from now on to be that smooth-sailing, but I needed this particular climb to go as well as it did to open my mind and propel me forward. Between you and me, I actually see the appeal of the multi-pitch accomplishment now more than ever. (Don’t tell Loren!)

Lessons Learned

I know that most of my readers aren’t rock climbers, so I’m trying not to dominate this entry with climbing jargon or details that you don’t care about. I wrote last Friday’s post (Wrestling Fear) as a way to verbalize feelings that had been swimming around in my mind for a few months.

My feelings were of self-doubt, fear, and discouragement. Raise your hand if you’ve never felt those feelings about something important to you.

… Exactly.

Lesson 1: What you choose to do about feelings like those will determine the course of your life, whether we’re talking about sport, career, or relationships.

Acknowledging self-doubt and getting to the bottom of it are the first steps to overcoming it. I had been doubting my skill and my mental toughness. I had also been doubting my desire to stretch myself, which was the source of my feelings of discouragement.

Lesson 2: Choosing to push forward is the “explorer’s way,” and I fancy myself an explorer. 

I truly believe that the day you stop trying to grow and learn is the day you become old. I knew a very special 84-year-old woman who never stopped learning, right up until the very end. In the last weeks of her life, I remember her saying, “I know I’m old, but I just don’t feel old. I feel young.” That’s the way I want to live my life, and giving in to fear is not part of that equation.

Lesson 3: There’s a time and a place for being out of your comfort zone, and just about 100% of the time, you come out better for it on the other side.

I challenge you to name a time when you’ve faced a fear or obstacle head-on, overcome it, and not liked yourself better for having gone through it in the end. I won’t go as far as to say that constant fear-seeking is healthy or ideal (that might qualify you as an adrenaline junky), but I will say that shying away from something you want out of fear will hold you back.

Go for it. You will rock!Lessons learned

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

– Nelson Mandela

On another note, Canada is REALLY expensive! To save some dough in Squamish, I made an awesome veggie-packed frittata for us to eat for breakfast the mornings we weren’t at a B&B. It fueled our long days of climbing so well that we often didn’t eat lunch until 3 or 4pm! The recipe will post on Friday!

5 Ways Rock Climbing Empowers You

When I first embarked on this blogging journey, my plan was to create a sounding board for my broad approach to health, fulfillment, and balance. I’d share stories about my adventures in the kitchen, in the garden, at local establishments, and in nature. I fully planned to write about my experience in nature from the perspective of a rock climber, but after a recent trip to Yosemite, I realized that I haven’t shared anything with you about climbing at all.
Part of the reason for this is that I’m not an elite climber. I’m not even a great climber – I’d put myself at slightly more advanced than a beginner with only a few years of the sport under my belt, so I surround myself with folks who have far more skill, knowledge and strength than I do. I’m always striving to learn and keep up – a position I grew used to as the younger, shorter, less-athletic sister always getting stuffed at the hoop in our driveway. Being in that position as a kid made me a stronger player, both physically and mentally. I wasn’t afraid to try as hard as I could, and I wasn’t afraid to fail. I just went for it, and I try my very best to apply that mentality to climbing.

There’s only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything. Football Coach, Vince Lombardi

People ask me why I climb, why I couldn’t pick something that keeps both feet on the ground as my adult activity of choice. My mom worries about me on the weekends, my coworkers think I’m crazy – why risk an injury? (Truthfully, when done properly and safely climbing isn’t much more dangerous than other sports, but that’s commentary for another time.)

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Owens River Gorge – Bishop, CA

The answer, in short, is to conquer fear. Fear holds us back from pursuing our dreams. Fear of failure, fear of not being the best (or even all that good). Fear of learning something new. Climbing forces you to face your fears – in fact, before I started climbing I had a relatively intense fear of heights. The perpetual quest to conquer fear through climbing has tremendous benefits for your life as a whole. Here are the ways it empowers you.

5 Ways Rock Climbing Empowers You

1. Climbing pushes you out of your comfort zone, repeatedly.

You’re reaching for something you never thought you could reach, you’re shifting all your weight onto a tiny feature in the rock and trusting yourself, your shoe, your body, your strength, to hold you there. Your resolve is constantly tested, and the limit of what you can manage physically and mentally gets higher and higher with each summit. You’re stretched, you’re challenged, and as a result you grow.

2. You are only competing with yourself.

Nobody’s keeping score. Your teammate is there to keep you safe, and the two of you are working together to do something amazing. But the only opponent is the rock (although I will admit that sometimes you feel like the rock is fighting back!) Climbing is all about personal best and working toward your own goals. Worrying about how you compare to others is only a detractor, and the exercise of controlling that tendency to compare is an advantageous mental task to master in itself. The gratification of sticking a hard move and finishing the route is all the motivation you need. This inner drive will carry over into many aspects of life where the only one keeping track of whether you accomplish your goal is you.

3. The Unknown awaits on every climb.


Happy Boulders in Bishop, CA

Every route has a ‘crux’ – the hardest part of the climb that determines the difficulty rating. The crux can be anywhere in theclimb. It can be the first move when you’re not quite warmed up or it could be toward the top when you’re totally burnt out. You can guess based on the rating if you’ll be able to do it, but you never know until you try, and often it’s that part of the climb that truly tests your grit. Even though we usually have a guide book to tell us roughly where the route goes, I often find myself in spots where the exact path is unclear or the best sequence of moves is elusive. Sometimes you have to just commit and have faith in your intuition that you’re going the right way and you’ll make it through. Sometimes I see my partner climb first and I know that whatever he’s doing is definitely NOT what I’m going to do – whether it’s because of a difference in height, skill, strength, or a combination – and that I’m going to have to figure out my own way when it’s my turn. One of the best parts of climbing is pushing through and accomplishing something you didn’t know you were capable of. Often that’s the real unknown that awaited you.

It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great. – Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own

4. Persistence, determination, and problem-solving are crucial to climbing.

These three characteristics are among the most valuable in ensuring that you are achieving your personal potential. And I’m not just talking about climbing anymore. Building and practicing these skills is a huge factor in professional success and personal growth. It’s impossible to grow as a person without pushing forward through (at least some) adversity and difficulty. When you’re on a wall working to find the next move, you might have to rearrange your feet, switch your hands, or shift your center of gravity. You might have to try, fail, and rework it another way. All of this while dangling high in the sky. The harder you work to get it right and solve the puzzle, the deeper your commitment to yourself and the climb.

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Grotto – Sonora, CA

5. Climbing fosters an alliance between humans and nature.

No one appreciates the reality of gravity like a climber. That might have been a bad joke, but seriously, climbing was meant to be an outdoor sport – even a wilderness sport. Most climbers train in the gym in preparation to climb outside on real rock under an open sky (or sometimes in a cave!). Groups like Access Fund that work to ensure climbing access across the country are focused on conservation, respect for the sanctity of nature, and reverence for the pristine outdoors. Climbers carry that mentality with them at the crag. Not only is there an etiquette that accompanies this sport in terms of keeping crags clean and safe, there’s also a spiritual relationship built between humans and nature when you spend that much time outside. Having that connection to nature and recognizing the role and responsibility of humans in preserving its beauty is empowering and motivating.

Climbing is a sport with transformative grit that demands a respect for how nature and humans interact. You don’t have to be an elite climber to know that climbing builds strength, character, community, and alliance with nature – maybe that’s another way of saying that it strengthens “mind, body, and spirit.” I may not have the skill and experience of an elite climber, but I think that’s something worth sharing.

rock climbing

Yosemite National Park, CA

rock climbing

Lake Tahoe, CA



















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