“He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights.” – Psalm 18:33
Your hand fingers for the hold above and just out of your reach, wiggling higher, searching for something better to rest on. Your right foot is too low to really use. Your left foot, weighted on a tiny quartz crystal, pushes you only slightly upward. There might be enough purchase on these holds, but you’re out of balance, and the good holds seem so far. Your forearms are pumping. Your legs start to shake. You want to give up…
The Psalm is a reminder of God’s promise. It’s not a promise of “I will give you bomber footholds and make everything easy.” It is instead a promise that we can be confident in what we do have—strength in Jesus. No matter the difficulty of the crux (which comes from the same root-word as “crucifixion”), we can have faith in our God-given abilities to overcome trials and reach the magnificent heights He has prepared.
When the way gets difficult and fear paralyzes us, it may seem easier to step down from the progress we’ve made than to continue climbing. We’re challenged most when we feel weak and our steps seem uncertain, however, it’s in these times when we grow closer to God. When we have faith, we can still reach mountain heights—even when we’re feeling weak.
Having faith isn’t avoiding falling, coming down when things get a little bit uncomfortable. Faith also isn’t blindly going for something when our decisions may be a detriment to ourselves or others. Faith is a calculated risk, knowing we’ve done all we can in our ability, and knowing we could fall—but if we do, we’ll be safe.
We’re only human. Falling is inevitable when we’re outside of our comfort zone. It can be terrifying, it may hurt, but we will make it through.
It’s similar to having faith in Jesus—when we pick up our crosses and follow him, it can be so scary to let go of our plans and expectations. And it may hurt sometimes to do the right thing. But when our hearts are centered on eternity, we can move beyond any crux and into His loving arms. Just remember to check your knots.
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.
As my 11-year old self approached the park with my father, I was ridden with anxiety about date attire. Pretty pressing at that age. Come to think of it, I had no idea where this notion arose, but regardless, it was overpowering my thoughts entirely. In this case, “A walk in the park” didn’t imply effortlessness. We arrived to an empty park greeted by an alluring sunset. The bewitching sway of the trees guided by the entrancing breeze was a palpable calm that magnified my unease. My fretfulness could no longer be subdued. Pop! “Dad, what should I wear for my date?” Since I fashion the emotions that squander my mind, little is left to mystery. With a placid chuckle he told me, “Self love is the most attractive shirt to wear.”
Embarking on an ultra can be daunting, but it can also be a serendipitous place to find self gratitude. It’s defined by a distance exceeding the traditional marathon length of 42.19km or 26.21mi. A 50k is only five miles longer, but can add an hour or more of running accompanied by elevated mental doubts and deeper lows. E and I arrived in California two days before our race. Her intent was to finish the 35k and I the 50k. Keeping mindful of proper nutrition and rest, we ran briefly to make accords with our strides the day before the event. We awoke early as planned in order to fuel-up, stretch, and record our pre-race thoughts to be compared with thoughts thereafter. Arriving at the venue with high spirits, we were ecstatic to begin the race, shaking our derrières to our respective power songs moments before start time. My mouth watered to the thought of two Coconut Bliss ice cream pints awaiting our return to be self rewarded. 3, 2, 1, GO!
I’ve always gravitated away from earth, retreating inward for solitude as helplessly as a leaf blowing in the wind—top heavy with insights arrived at too easily. The steady thuds of my feet, heart, and breath create a monotonous beat that hypnotizes me—riding a wave of inexplicably good fortune that seems to inflate a careless sense of invulnerability. My mind empties. Nature is the perfect mirror. She offers a vivid glimpse transcending the superficial reflection, exposing our inner selves. And beyond that glimpse, an environment to be fully self aware—giving chance for an efflorescence. Love of self.
Throughout the suffer-fest that was the Woodside Ramble, located within the heart of the San Fran Peninsula, beautiful forested sceneries in the cool canyons of Huddart and Wunderlich Parks tried to mask the pain with its canopy of moss-covered redwoods. Before the race I had reminded E to take advantage of all the aid stations she passes by—to get food, water, salt tabs—every time. Guess what I did? I ran strong 8min/mi for 20miles without stopping, having passed two aid stations already and quickly approaching the next. “No, I don’t need anything, I am good,” *facepalm. Inevitably, I was hit by ravenous hunger and debilitating fatigue. My body was quick in telling me to stop, sending cramps throughout my thighs and calves. I got tunnel visioned, neglecting to practice what I preached. I had to amble for a mile and a half to the next aid station where I devoured food like a lion who hasn’t eaten in days; not forgetting to ask for salt tabs. Another half mile of ambling rid of my cramps allowing me to finish the race at a slow 10min/mi pace.
A month has passed since I’ve had that recurring dream of being in the park with my late father. I haven’t seen him in 13 years but the continuity of his effect will never cease. I find that great physical challenges and endeavors are one of the few things that truly allow me to wear that self-love shirt. Overcoming arduous challenges leads me to truly appreciate my vessel through life. Curiosity in what I am capable of urges me to put myself in wondrous situations. We grow when faced with difficult situations, whether they are self-induced or not. Our reactive tendencies are revealed when pushed out of our comfort zones, forcing us to adapt or perish. When we approach these revelations with self-betterment, we can use new discoveries to see comfort even in highly uncomfortable situations, letting us live happier lives. Allowing us to actually see our surroundings. Allowing us to love ourselves.