Begin Again

I need to buy a plane ticket. After a few months of Chicago winter, with ever mounting stresses and pressures at work, I should be jumping at the chance to escape on a climbing trip. Instead, I’m afraid.

I wrote before about a scary fall that happened while I was climbing in the Red this autumn. Since then, I’ve been working to regain and improve my leading confidence, but it hasn’t been an easy road. I need this trip, I need this time in the outdoors because daily life leaves me tired, stressed, and depleted. But I’m afraid, because I’m worried that I’ll want confidence and mastery that I probably won’t have on my first outdoor trip in over 3 months. I’m wanting climbing to be easy and restorative, but I’m not sure that it will be.

I’ve recently started practicing yoga. It’s been more challenging and rewarding than I thought. One of the things I’m learning in yoga is to accept what my body can do on a particular day, to not force poses I’m ready for.

Great blog post from Heidi Wirtz over at the North Face website, and some beautiful photos. Click through for the post.

I want to try to take what I’m learning in yoga and apply it to my climbing. When I get back out again, I want to be present in my body and my mind–accept what I’m ready to do and try not to force the rest. Though it’s not in my nature, I want to trick myself into becoming a beginner again.

Everyone takes time off, from the most earnest beginner ripping off skin on huge jugs, to the seasoned climbers who suffer injury or accident. Sometimes it’s work that gets in the way, sometimes it’s family, or travel.

To get started again: Let go of what was, what you used to be able to do. Accept where you are right now and be present. Do what you can one day at a time, listen to your body. Breathe in and begin again. 

how to be a dirtbag climber girl

Someone found my blog by searching the title of this post. I can’t seem to replicate it (maybe the all-knowing google knows that I know where my blog is?), but I thought I’d answer the question anyway.

My most important advice is to be confident, and do it your way.

This is also known as the fake-it-till-you-make-it principle. If you’re a girl considering a dirtbag lifestyle and hesitating, don’t! Just go do it! Before my trip this summer I worried a lot about not climbing hard enough to make it on the road, not knowing enough climbers to make it work, and a lot of other silly things. None of these worries are important. I have never talked to anyone who regretted living on the road for a while.

I know so many people who hit the road, found community, and never looked back. It will work for you too. Sell your shit. Quit your job. End your lease. Hit the road! Or don’t listen to me and do it your way. That’s even better.

Go find the wild places, because they’re there. Mt. Fitz Roy in Argentina by flickr user StuckInCustoms

A bunch of my practical advice for dirtbag livin’ is on this blog. Check out my post about living in a truck, or the dirtbag beta series for some tips. Steph Davis has a lot of great tips on her blog as well. Wherever you go, you will need to find out where to sleep, where to do laundry/get wifi/get food, and where to get beer. Sometimes this info is easy to find on the internet, sometimes it’s easier to find by word of mouth.

There is only one bit of ‘how to be a dirtbag’ advice that is female-specific (that I can think of).

All climbers should be able to pee standing up without taking off their harnesses. It makes life so much easier! If you weren’t born with the right equipment, you should look into getting a PStyle. They are cheap, easy to clean, and don’t look like funnels. I will never go climbing/camping without mine!

What’s your advice for aspiring dirtbags? Sound off in the comments?

Great Expectations and Letting Go

I recently had a prolonged few days of low climbing psych. I had an unexpected success when I sent my first 12a after only 2 days of effort.

So I got a bit big-headed.

I started expecting that every route I got on would feel great. That 11s would feel easy. That I would be able to onsight all the time. After all, I had just climbed a 12! It was a whole new level, right?


But of course, that wasn’t the way it went. One of the great things about being on the road is that you can progress relatively quickly. I climbed my first 11 less than 2 months ago. The downside of the rapid progress is that your base doesn’t catch up, which leads to inconsistent performance.

Which is how I ended up in the doldrums, crying on a 5.11 that was supposed to be fun. Somewhere in the rush of sending a hard route, I misplaced my love of climbing and started worrying about how well I was performing. I was focused more on how hard I was sending than I was on having fun.

It took me a few long days to figure out what was happening. I spent most of my next climbing day on 10s and easy 11s, trying to get my feet back under me. Trying to get my head on straight. And it worked (sort of). I cut myself a break, and started having fun again. I sent the warm-up, on my second go. And I didn’t blame myself  for not getting it the first time.

Clowning around on rap in Ten Sleep Canyon. Photo credit: @Baodehui

I have always had high expectations for myself. I can’t seem to help it. But in the last week, those expectations got in the way of my enjoyment of a sport I adore, preventing me from having fun in a certifiable rock climbing paradise.

As all climbers know–sometimes you can’t hold on any more. You just have to let go. I’m trying–this week–to focus on my love of being alive, being outdoors, being able healthy and able to climb. And to let go of my expectations, until they don’t throttle me anymore.

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Why I Post Pictures of Women

The best thing about this post is that it’s illustrated with tons of kick-ass chicks having fun climbing. Like this lady.

Roberta Resende Loureiro on Bam Bam 7c, by flickr user Ricardo Cosme.

Or women on the rock just having fun, like this gal.

Greta, climbing in her Halloween costume. By flickr user _Tawcan.

So, why do I only mostly post pictures of girls?

It’s nice to see men doing impressive fitness things, but it doesn’t seem relevant or attainable to me. Women and men have very different physical builds and capabilities. In the same way that I can watch an olympic gymnast or a ballet dancer–and appreciate the beauty or strength of what they do without wanting to become like them–I can watch men climb and not get particularly pysched or inspired.

How many guys do you know who can bust out a pull-up at will, whether or not they’re in shape? If you’re a woman who wants to be able to do pull-ups, what’s more inspiring, this, or this?

Laura Griffiths in Stony Point, CA. Photo by flickr user Susanica.

There’s a gender disparity in the climbing media. Consider the number of ground breaking ascents (for males) that make it onto film vs. the number of ground breaking ascents (for females) that make it onto film, or the quality of the resulting films*. I’m not trying to point a finger here–on many levels, I get why this disparity exists. There are more men who climb than women. More men than women make first ascents, and most hard routes or problems women climb have pre-existing video of men doing the same climb. It’s not surprising that sometimes the ladies don’t get as much camera time as the men, especially outside.

Don’t get me wrong. I love watching climbing videos, even the one with guys. I can still observe technique and get inspired to climb harder.

But becoming inspired by a movie or a picture is about so much more than just being impressed or fascinated. It’s about feeling excited and feeling a connection, a glimmer of possibility that stays with you all day, until you hit the gym. The glimmer grows into a resolve that helps you bang out the last set of reps or make the sketchy clip or pull past the crappy hold. And for me, watching other women climb will always make a brighter, longer-lasting spark of inspiration, even if the woman in question is climbing on something that hundreds of men can do as a warm-up.

Jess at Norwa, by flickr user Daniel Pertovt.

(All images in this post are CC-liscenced images by users on flickr. The featured photographers have many other awesome climbing photos–you should check them out!)  

*I am in the process of collecting and analyzing quantitative data about the representation of men and women in the climbing media. When I wrote this post, I got curious about the disparity I perceived. This data will be posted within the next week to a special page on the blog.