Imagine the release of a major burden that you’ve been carrying lately. What part(s) of your body are connected to this burden and what does it feel like to let it go? Invite your hands to that place on your body and send it some deep breaths.
What’s left in the space where your burden was once rooted? What is one boundary you can put into practice to keep this a safe space for you to explore?
Rather than allowing something else to be planted in your burden’s place, what is a way you can nourish and nurture this spaciousness throughout the rest of your day?
As our crags thaw out, climbers shed a few puffy layers in preparation for their warmer-weather rock projects—their native climbing pants accompanying them in both successes and failures. Since the alignment of the stars and planets aren’t always a reliable source to forecast adventures, we turned to these celestial slacks for this season’s climbing horoscopes.
Spandex Tights This will be a colorful and bright season filled with exposure—not just of beautiful rock buttresses, but of your privy parts as well. Expect an enjoyable but fragile time, where you should probably avoid real rocks, dirt, and Velcro.
Denim Jeans Just like your pants, this season will be familiar and solid. Expect an opportunity to show off how strong and stylish you are—but how can you do that without heel-hooks or figure-fours? Alas, that durable denim will slow you down, restricting you from reaching your full potential.
Carhartts After some unsuccessful red-points on difficult sport climbs and too many flaky climbing partners, you will embrace free-soloing as your main climbing discipline. But keep in mind as you rise to great heights—you are not as indestructible as your pants.
Short-Shorts You may open a portal to embody legends—Royal Robbins pioneering big-wall climbing, Lynn Hill making a first ascent of the Nose on El Cap, Wim Hof climbing Everest—or you may just have an embarrassing day at Spire. Embrace your freedom, but keep in mind your vulnerability to the elements and others watching from below.
Corduroy Pants You are a practical and durable climber who can display flexibility when cruxes manifest. Your understanding of comfort will allow you to thrive on cooler days, climbing multi-pitch routes or meeting for coffee dates.
The Newest Climbing-Specific Knickers You are a strong boulderer or sponsored climber who wants to be protected from scratches, abrasions, and embarrassing fashion trends. Your gusseted crotch reveals you can handle most of the difficult movements on your projects. Take this opportunity to climb your hardest; even if you do wreck your pants during your first outing of the season, duct tape is always available to turn your blemishes into dirtbag perfection.
Nothing You are a cutting-edge climber who will have a painful season due to harness-chafing and constant exposure to sharp rocks, solar radiation, harsh winds, late-season snow, judgemental stares, and uncontrollable laughter. The celestial alignment will cause other climbers to hesitate when you ask for a belay.
The sun radiated through towering pines, laying a canopy over the dusty trail toward Suicide Rock. Idyllwild, California—the true birthplace of the YDS, home to the world’s first 5.9, and central to the rise of rock climbing in the States. On a clear Saturday afternoon, climbing parties danced up the trail to hop on all the classics. My mom and I planned to do our first traditional climb together—Graham Crackers, a two-pitch 5.6.
We arrived at the Northeast Buttress and joined the other weekend warriors—some were smiling, and some scowling at the increasing amount of people arriving at the crag. We greeted the woman standing below Graham Crackers who placed gear on her harness, preparing to lead. As we discussed our choices to wait or find another 5.fun route, a woman dressed head-to-toe in Patagonia interjected, recommending we try out Etude, 5.11a. A bit alarmed we would jump from 5.6 to 5.11, and a bit honored she assumed my mom and I would be up for it, I responded, “I do love that route but we’re looking for something easier.” The woman looked at me surprised and responded, “you’ve climbed it?”
With this response, she suggested that either she expected us to climb it on-sight, or that she simply said it to measure her climbing ability against ours. I calmly told her I climbed the route last time I was here and my mom added in, attempting to be helpful, “she top-rope on-sighted it!” In a condescending tone, she went on to tell me that doesn’t count and she would love to see me lead it.
The climb tempted me with its beautifully delicate features, but I was new to traditional climbing, I wasn’t warmed up, there were a plethora of stressed climbers defensive of their spot in the queue for Flower of High Rank—the climb just next to it, and my mom would be tense and terrified belaying me. These didn’t feel like excuses, they were valid concerns. And for some reason, my ego still wanted to prove that I could.
I looked up at the climb from where I was sitting and took a deep breath. I knew that it wasn’t my voice telling me I wanted to climb it—it was the insecurity of another. I smiled and brushed it off as if her challenge was a friendly joke. We ended up waiting only a few minutes more for Graham Crackers. My mom and I climbed our two pitches and had a great time together.
As climbing ascends even more into the mainstream, crags are becoming more crowded and the competition becoming far less than friendly. With this, we worry that climbing-related accidents will also become more common. We’re a community, after all. Why doesn’t it feel like it sometimes?
Increasingly, and not just in California, I have seen people pushing their goals—and insecurities—onto others. If someone has a true intention to do something, they will do it rather than spray about it. If you have a goal to try climbing indoors, try it! If you’d like to climb outside, it’s wonderful! If you’d like to climb 5.15, work super hard and get there! But please remember, we all have different limits and we all have diverse goals. Competition can be positive, helping us try hard and do our best. But not everyone wants to compete.
There’s a huge difference between challenging others to be great and shaming them for not being “as good” as you. It takes enough strength and energy to become a better version of ourselves, and criticizing others’ abilities and decisions is a waste of it. We must use this energy to grow, as members of the same community, and encourage others rather than judge them for growing in a different way. Climbing is a beautiful physical endeavor, but it can also help us face the weaker parts of ourselves so we can see that there’s something bigger going on than just scaling a blank-looking rock.
What we learn when we climb—about patience, about respect for ourselves, other climbers, and the natural world, about overcoming fears, about having grace with ourselves—can translate into our everyday lives. If we are busy invalidating others’ pursuits and accomplishments, we will miss opportunities to better ourselves and our community. Wherever we may be in our journey of ability, we must all embrace our own goals and allow others the stillness to reach theirs. Climb on!…if you want.
While many people in our country spend these frigid months watching the news or Netflix in Snuggies, most Bozemanites keep warm by skiing or snowboarding Bridger, Big Sky, or the backcountry. Unfortunately, many of us must spend five of seven days inside an office or a classroom—sans ridiculously comfortable blanket with arm holes—in order to afford gear, lift passes, and the medical expenses that accompany a mountain lifestyle. For the weekdays when the heavens anoint our peaks with fresh powder, and your closest view of the Ridge is the background photo on your laptop, try these excuses with your superiors.
“I strained my chi doing camel pose in yoga last night.” It’s really important to listen when the universe tells you to take a day off. Some unbalanced chakras could really mess up the workspace feng shui.
“I’m taking a sick day.” Although we try to discourage using the word “sick” interchangeably with cool, awesome, wonderful, etc., there’s finally an appropriate use for it—and it’s barely fibbing when used as an explanation for your absence in class or at work. The nipple-deep pow and the lack of lift lines are sick, indeed.
“I’m sick. Really.” Chances are you may truly be afflicted by a virus, but what invigorates your system better than some fresh air and cold smoke? You’re less likely to spread your infection while bundled up head to toe in ski gear; however, you are more susceptible to a snotty beardsicle—and pneumonia. Use this one with caution.
“My dog has the flu.” Most employers and professors will understand that you will need to be gone all day giving her medicine, homemade bone broth, and mixed-berry popsicles. Substitute “child” as necessary.
“My doctor recommends that I spend time outside to cure my winter blues.” You will probably do yourself and everyone else a favor this season if you just go outside. Ask your doctor, a yoga teacher, or the cashier at the Co-op to write a prescription. “200 turns in fresh powder before lunch, three to five times a week to help prevent the transmission of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Repeat after one week. Refills: Unlimited.”
“Do you mind if I take a half-day today? I’d like to take advantage of the powder.” Be real and remember that you are in Bozeman, after all. The powder clause and nature tax are real things here, and your supervisors likely want to get outside as much as you do. Odds are, you’ll be running into them on the slopes. If they still say no, give ’em a disappointed head-shake and mutter something about the robust middle-management job market in Miami.
When looking for a partner, it’s tempting to consider someone with a nice-looking rack or a sweet set of nuts, but take it from me, you’re better off with a belay partner whose gear—and ego—is well-worn. There are too many people out there who claim to climb, but instead spend their time flaunting their equipment on social media, seeking partners who will shower them with thumbs-up approval. Despite the occasional d-bag around the crag, there are still many bona fide dirtbags: people who don’t need the newest Prana climbing pants, or the most aggressive shoes, or lavender-scented chalk. If you too want to rope up and cut the crap, but can’t figure out why your climbing days still consist of the auto-belay at Spire, here are some tips.
For starters, talk to people. Many Bozemanites have climbed before, so you’re not putting yourself out too much if you ask, “Do you climb?” If it’s a co-worker, a cutie in line at the Co-op, or a babe in Burke Park, be friendly and strike up a conversation about how great the conditions in Hyalite have been looking. If you both are up to climb, exchange numbers, and call if you say you’re going to. Agree on a time, and if you’re the one who initiated the date, let your partner know what to bring and what to expect.
When you call, have a plan. If you ask someone out for the first time, remember that “Want to go climb in Hyalite at 1am?” is similar to “Want to watch Netflix and chill?” It shows that you probably don’t have a plan and that you and your partner might get into some very risky business.
Now, if you’ve never been to Practice Rock, tell the truth. Your partner will figure out soon enough if you were bullshitting about your Cardiac Arete lead. It’s okay for him to see that you don’t know everything—and just because you know some things, doesn’t mean you’re going to do all the work. Climbing is a team effort, and it will help your relationship if both you and your partner know that from the start.
After you do make a plan, show up. Be prepared and don’t expect your partner to bring water, snacks, or gear for you—unless he already told you he would. And it’s a safe practice to have extra water handy anyway, for when you and your partner get hot and bothered by the start on Theoretically.
In addition, try to avoid talking about all the long and hard classics you’ve done. Even though you may want to tell your partner how experienced you are, there are other ways—communicate well, help him feel safe, and climb smart. It’s easy to blab about climbs you’ve done; it’s more difficult, and more fun, to climb.
When gearing up, if a more experienced partner says you didn’t follow through your knot, or that your harness isn’t double-backed, listen. His advice could save a life. A good belayer will help his partner become a better climber.
If a less experienced partner is ready to get onto the sharp end of the rope, encourage him, answer his questions, be an unselfish and attentive belayer—and don’t beta-spew. Even if your way is the “right way,” as long as your climber isn’t in any real danger, give him some real words of encouragement.
If you’re not cheering him on, embrace the silence. If you don’t know your partner well yet, get to know him, but not when you’re halfway up the route. From 50 feet up, “What did you say?” sounds a whole lot like “Off belay.” Be respectful of other climbers, be mindful of the timing and volume of your conversations, and welcome the quiet moments between you and your partner.
When we climb for ourselves and encourage others to do the same, seeking to become a better belayer rather than finding the perfect belayer, we will discover that they are all around us. And it just takes a few awkward moves, sweaty palms, and courage to get to the top of the world with one.
Staring at the towers above, I imagine a gneiss crack hugging my fingers as I sandwich my rubber toes in a one-inch splitter. A cool breeze flows through the canyon, lifting my awareness higher up the mountainside and further from the water I’m in. With the weighty nudge of a paddle against the back of my PFD and a yell, “Stop looking at the rocks!” I snap out of my fantasy. A sudden burst of water in my face, and I’m back in the front seat of a whitewater raft—and an integral part of keeping it afloat.
Whitewater explodes all around us, and all eyes widen as we approach a huge rapid. Our Montana Whitewater guide, Michael, laughs and commands, “Alright, all forward!” Each member of the boat paddles at a slightly different pace, like a heart with palpitations, occasionally skipping a beat. Our strokes finally sync as we hit Hilarity Hole, an enormous hydraulic known for its hungry belly that flips its food over quickly and digests it without a pause. The only way out: ditching your PFD, swimming downward, and praying that it will spit you out with a breath still in your chest.
We make it through the rapid and water drips from our sunburned faces, revealing the smiles that were hidden behind our unease. After some small-talk, Michael guesses that rafting may not be any of our first choices and asks, “So, what’s your thing?” As the others begin describing some of their outdoor preferences — kayak-fishing, mountain biking, skiing — the serene wind blows through our conversation and silences our discourse. In a moment of stillness, we absorb the perfect warmth of the sun and take in the calm waves and breathtaking scenery. Despite our variety of interests, we’re all here now, synergistically enjoying this experience in Gallatin Canyon.
People from all backgrounds come through this canyon and its surrounding mountains — strapping on their Oboz, Chacos, or La Sportivas and flowing into their activity of choice, often forgetting about the wide variety of other activities available. On this day, when the air was too scorching to climb Scorched Earth, I didn’t even think to jump in the water. And just as I began to make plans to climb indoors at Spire, the O/B crew invited me out to the river — where we could step out of our routines and into a whitewater raft.
In the rugged waters below looming citadels of gneiss and limestone, we prepare for another rapid — this time we’re all a bit more comfortable and collegial. Our strokes sync even quicker this time as we glide over the whitewater like butter on warm bread, becoming one with the rapids. With water up my nose and a smile on my face, I understand that all our “things” are just small ingredients to this same fantastic whole — a whole that would be incomplete if we only saw it from one angle.
At another calm section, Michael tells us he came all the way from Indiana to become a Gallatin River guide. He hasn’t invested in a drysuit yet; instead, he wears only a polyester t-shirt — which he wore throughout his springtime guide training while swimming down the numbing rapids. No matter how cold he gets, he’s out here doing what he loves most — and trying to understand the other “things” that keep the canyon bustling year-round. To our left, he points out some lesser-known public lands to hike and mountain bike. Gesturing to the right, he describes the “granite” climbing. I smile under my PFD and keep quiet. He’ll figure out the geology in time — maybe by strapping on a harness and seeing the canyon in a different light. And who knows, maybe he’ll enjoy the rocks as much as I’m enjoying this river.
And this is what it’s all about, appreciating the abundance and enjoying the occasional divergence from the familiar. Rather than getting cooked on the rocks on a sweltering summer day — or, in my case, wasting it inside — I gave the river a chance, respecting another ingredient of the good life this canyon brings us. And while everyone may have a preferred way to spend time here, if we only engage in what we know, we’ll miss out on the variety and splendor of the outdoor world. Instead, we should savor the entirety of this place, where there’s always an adventure — around every corner, on every type of craft, with every type of person.
Thick chunks of quartz, fallen from spheres of monzonite, crunched under the weight of our movement. B and I ran between Joshua Trees and toward the sun racing with us toward the desert horizon. Step by step, we moved through the beauty surrounding us as lightly as the wind itself. Yucca and cacti tried to hold us back by grasping our dirty shirts and bare legs, but we continued through the discomfort with only a few minor cuts on the surface.
To the Mojave desert, we journeyed to test the motion we’d practiced in the Northern Rockies. As mostly a boulderer and sport-climber, B was new to traditional climbing. There were boulders, but few bolts in the Park. We were mostly here to do some crack.
In previous visits to this ethereal land, I found comfort in scrambling up the huge rock piles, following more experienced climbers up moderate crack climbs, and leading the few sport climbs/top-ropes in the Park—yelling, “take” if the climbing got too difficult or the beta too obscure. In my comfort-zone I stayed, dwelling in the known, often making up excuses to avoid discomfort.
“I’m not strong enough.”
“My fingers hurt.”
“I can’t reach it.”
“My shoes are dull.”
One thing that living in Montana has taught me, is that these can all be translated to: “I am scared to push through the comfort zone.” The climbing pioneers never relied on excuses to get them anywhere. Instead, they moved through beautiful routes with prototype gear (or no gear at all), often wearing hiking boots and tattered clothing. They worked with the strengths they did have and carried the sport to where it is today.
Exploring new areas, leading routes, and experimenting with our abilities, requires a shift—and this shift doesn’t always require a physical push. Moving through mental discomfort might be the most difficult move we make on a climb—but it’s a shift that will allow our bodies to reach their potential and gain from new experiences. The familiar old foe, comfort, will only bring stagnation.
The more comforts we keep with us when we move, the more that weighs us down. So, why is it so difficult to leave them behind? We know comfort will still be there when we return. To take that first step into the unknown—to climb outside, above your gear, or above your usual grade—is scary, especially the first time. But when we make the decision to leave behind the familiar, we awaken the potential that sits still within, awaiting our attention. And we can enjoy life’s comforts, even more, when we return from our adventures.
The climb Coarse and Buggy called me out of my comfort zone. This beautiful climb once covered in coarse, chossy rock, stood clean and noble near the other roadside rocks. This was the last JTree climb I did before I moved to Bozeman, and I did it on top-rope because it seemed beyond my limit. A year later, it still felt beyond what I was comfortable with, but I knew I could do the moves and I knew the gear placements were good. This time on the sharp-end, I knew the crux would be my own mind.
We began our day climbing nearby on Hemingway Buttress where we were shaded from the sun’s fever. The climbs Overseer, Poodles are People Too, the Importance of Being Ernest, and White Lightning left smiles on our faces that could not be removed like the obliterated skin on our knuckles. But since we had many days of climbing before us, we decided to greet Coarse and Buggy first thing in the morning.
After shedding our harnesses and the weight of the day, we ran from Hemingway to Atlantis Wall and returned to camp with hungry bellies and hearts full of gratitude. Under the clear desert sky, a distant howl of coyotes told me that comfort is a privilege many can’t afford. I fell asleep, thankful to be pursuing strength and beauty in this land.
Before the sunshine and other campers arose, we packed our gear and dashed back over to the roadside rocks. There was no reason to delay our day—no time to sit still and cozy when our goal was right around the corner. We could always return to hot coffee and breakfast, but we could not lose momentum.
The sun shined behind the face, creating an alluring glow around our climb. I attached tiny stoppers to some quickdraws, clipped the gear on my harness, and tied a figure-eight below my waist. With a safety check and a little dance, I dipped my hands into a bag of chalk and took my first step into the corner.
Right toe in. Right-hand pinch. Left-hand jam. Right-hand jam. Left-hand crimp. High foot. Left-hand gaston. Lean left. Reach the jug. Rock over. One step after the other until I entered the big ledge just before the blank dihedral.
I placed a purple TCU and a number 3 nut to protect myself on the low angle dihedral above me. There I was, on the climb I had visualized for the past month—staring at the tiny feet, a crimp just beyond my reach, and a fingertip-seam that rested on the crack like a mischievous smirk, taunting me.
Moving from the comfortable ledge and into the dihedral, I gave the moves at least a half-dozen semi-tries. But after each time, I returned to my comfortable ledge. I fumbled for another nut and tried to wedge it in the crack, but it was too big and I was losing energy fast. The protection was there already, but my commitment to the moves was not.
In a moment of fear to move beyond, I hesitated. In a few seconds of idleness, my legs began to shake. My mind wouldn’t let me move up, even though I knew a fall would be well-protected. I considered climbing down to my beloved ledge—willing to fall into old habits of comfort, rather than do what I needed to: trust my feet, stem, and move. Either way, I had to move. Commit to that first step. One foot and then the other. The movement calmed my muscles and I was able to climb past the thin seam and into great hands and larger gear.
When we’re given a choice, we can trust our feet, stay balanced, and move through the unknown—or we can let our doubts take hold, and return to the comfort we know. We must consider whether our challenge requires a physical movement, a mental shift, or both. Once we understand what has a grip on us, we can take the first step to overcoming it.
When B and I returned to Bozeman, a mess of rope laid still like a discarded snake skin, as tangled as my uncombed hair. Clothing stained with dirt and blood piled up and the smell of stale smoke lingered in the air. Nylon, aluminum, and steel littered the floor.
Dropping my body beside my belongings, I did not know where to begin. I picked up my phone. Wait. I hesitated before swiping my battered pointer finger right over a photo of a Joshua Tree sunset. An exhausted voice in my mind asked, “is checking your email now the right move?” We must try to understand which moves will bring us closer to where we need to be. I put my phone down and switched the light off, soon falling sound asleep. This time staying still was the best move to get where I needed.
Taking the first step to achieving goals doesn’t always require pushing our physical limits. There’s a time to try hard and a time to rest, and both of these actions have the ability to help us enjoy the comfortably uncomfortable motion of life.