Inspiration. Information. Improvement.


Rekindling My Relationship with Climbing

By Katie Levy, founder of Adventure-Inspired

I went indoor rock climbing last weekend. I recognize that, to you, dear visitor of a climbing website, a statement like that isn’t particularly unusual or interesting. It’s not an unusual or interesting statement coming from me either; at least, it wasn’t four months ago. Since August, I’ve climbed once. I canceled my gym membership and my Evolv HERA shoes have been gathering dust since, along with my harness and adorable chalk bag. This coming from a girl who ate, slept and breathed climbing.

My hiatus from the sport wasn’t due to an injury or other unpredictable incident, it was a conscious choice. To anyone as obsessed with the sport as I was, it seems unfathomable to stop climbing without a darn good reason, but I had one. When I talk about climbing, I tend to personify the sport. Whether it’s because I’m nuts, or because I take life too seriously, I always refer to the relationship climbing and I have because it’s much more than just a sport. So, as part of that personification, I’m going to liken the break I took from climbing to a break in a relationship.

Climbing and I just weren’t working out anymore. The honeymoon phase was amazing. I was in the gym at least three days a week, scouting websites, choosing a bucket list of routes, and working my way into a community of people who were as in love as I was. But, as in any relationship, that phase passed. Issues arose. Internal arguments became more frequent. Finally, I decided the way I was approaching the sport needed to change. I knew I wanted climbing to be a part of my life, I just wasn’t sure in what capacity.

So, after four months I drove myself to my home gym for a two hour session as part of an event I led for TerraMar Adventures. My first route felt like a dream. With every step and every reach, I remembered why I used to climb so much. The way I feel when I’m climbing confidently and in control is amazing. My arms and legs felt strong, I was confident, and I had a fantastic belayer who made me feel safe.

Unfortunately, as great as it would be to take a climbing hiatus and come back without a fear of falling, I knew it’s wasn’t possible. That fear reared its ugly head on the second route. I was reminded of the sensations I took a break from climbing to avoid. Whatever I was afraid of before was still there. The only way I think I could have made progress on my fear of falling would’ve been to take trapeze lessons, skydive, or do something else that exposed me to that sensation. But even a few bumpy cross-country flights didn’t help.

My second route was a long 5.7+, a route I would have done as a warm-up when my hands and forearms were conditioned. I could feel my heart start to race as crazy scenarios ran through my head, I started over-gripping, tired quickly and had to yell “take” three times before I finished it.

As strange as it might sound, I have trouble letting people I don’t know belay me, even if they’ve proven their belaying competence. I used to think it was because I didn’t trust easily, and that could be true, but I realized a big part of it is pride. I don’t like to openly show fear. For example, the sensation I in my stomach when I’m falling is something I try to avoid at all costs, which is part of why I’m not a fan of lead climbing. If I’ve got someone new belaying for me, I usually tell them not to lower me too quickly and it embarrasses me every time. I’m essentially telling them, “I’m really scared, please don’t make it worse.” It’s a fear I know I can temper with exposure, but that it’ll never go away. Sometimes I’ve got the energy to fight it, other times I don’t, and telling someone I’m afraid is hard.

I felt less of the fear on the third and fourth climbs, but still had to take deep breaths to calm myself mid-route. I can’t imagine leading again for a while, but as soon as I saw all of the new boulder problems I’d missed over those four months, the excitement returned. I found myself sitting underneath a V4 I knew I wouldn’t attempt that day, walking through the moves in my head. Bouldering will always be my favorite climbing discipline, and I’m beginning to believe it’s partially because it doesn’t scare me. Sure, there’s the beauty of the movements, the power, the purity, the social aspects, the fact that you don’t need a partner or a ton of gear, all of these are things I love too. But when I’m closer to the ground, when there’s no safety net (rope) and I’m entirely on my own, I feel stronger.

As important as it is to continue to push our limits, mental and physical, a big reason for my break was the fact that climbing was becoming too stressful. The pressure I’d put on myself to lead when I was panicking, to go high because I felt like I should, it got to be too much. Climbing stopped being fun.

My first day back in the gym helped me confirm that climbing needs to be a part of my life. I’m not quite sure how yet – how often I’ll do it, whether more inside than out, if I’ll stick mostly to bouldering, if I’ll try attacking my fear of falling head on, etc. But I sure miss the people I used to see all the time, feeling strong and powerful on boulder problems, and taking leaps of faith when I’m ready to fall.

Climbing and I, we may not be soul mates, but we’re a great team. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore the best way to rekindle my relationship with the sport, and know I’ll find a way to make it work.

Katie Levy is the founder of Adventure-Inspired. From rock climbing to hiking, from mountaineering to mountain biking and everything in between, Adventure-Inspired exists as a place to tell stories and share musings, gear reviews, and anything else related to playing outside.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Analytics Plugin made by VLC Media Player