I had been experiencing a strange insurgence of emotion within me for the past few weeks. One of my primary female climbing partners, Laura, had hesitantly shared with me that she was moving halfway across the country to Colorado for graduate school. Colorado, the land of the all-day moderate multi-pitch scrambles. Colorado, the land of thousands of alpine boulders. Colorado, the land of hard, overhung limestone sport climbs….sigh.
It felt bittersweet. I was new to climbing when I first met Laura, through our friend Kristina. At this point in time, I increasingly found myself growing inexplicably obsessed with climbing. It wasn’t just a hobby for me anymore. During my lunch breaks at work, I fervently browsed through random climbing destinations on Mountain Project, adding to my “To-Do” list. I consumed the latest issue of Climbing, Alpinist, or Rock and Ice as soon as they arrived on my doorstep each month. I climbed as much as I could, and when I wasn’t climbing, it was all I could think about.
I think climbing plays a role in every person’s life a little differently. For many, climbing is a fun adventurous hobby that may never progress past gym climbing and the occasional outdoor trip, which is perfectly okay. For some, climbing is an escape from a non-stop everyday life. For others, climbing is the ultimate Turkish Delight, ensnaring itself deeply into the climber’s life and taking precedence over all wordly obligations.
I wasn’t sure of the tangible role that climbing played in my life at that point, but I did yearn to find other female climbers that shared my similar passion. This was something that drew me to Laura, upon first climbing with her. Her confidence and ambition towards developing as a better rock climber was refreshing to me, as well as her slightly obsessive crush on professional climber, Alex Honnold. Her commitment to planning outdoor climbing trips with me and Kristina on a bi-weekly to monthly basis, however, was how I ended up truly relating with her. Finally, I met female climber who prioritized climbing outside with her friends as much as humanly possible.
I will miss our naive yearning climbing adventures, exploring the southeast’s crags. Weather conditions rarely stopped us. We often climbed in sticky summer weather, the kind where you have to take rests while climbing to slap away the gnats buzzing in your ears and to wipe off the sweat on your hands. We also climbed in the opposite extreme- one of my favorite climbing days was climbing with Laura and Kristina in early December at a small chossy crag just over the Virginia-West Virginia border. We drove three hours to spend the day climbing in sub-thirty degree weather. It is laughable now, but at the time, we were each so psyched to have a day where we were free to climb outside with one another. We were relatively new to leading outside as well as climbing with each other, and were still fearful about pushing our limits on the sharp end. We timidly tried out a couple of 5.7s, got braver, and then failed miserably on a 5.8. There were a couple of challenging moves towards the top of the climb that none of us wanted to commit to do, as we were terrified to fall on lead. Somehow, Laura found a way to hike to the top of the crag to set a toprope on the route. Steady sleet started falling on us as we each tried to maneuver the climb again, this time with the security of a toprope. By the time we wrapped up for the day, I couldn’t feel my fingers. Yet, I enjoyed myself immensely that day and found myself texting Laura and Kristina that night about making plans to climb with each other again.
As our climbing progressed, so did the bond between us. Sometimes we didn’t climb; sometimes we just visited each other to catch up as regular friends. This happened naturally, as most of our climbing trips involved very little climbing time relative to the time spent laughing, catching up, drinking wine, meeting other climbers, etc. I think there is also another underlying element that adds to the magnitude of the bond between climbing partners as well, however. We trusted each other with our lives, in a very real sense. We also were no strangers to seeing the best, as well as the worst in each other. In this I mean that pride, stress, frustration, fear, insecurity, self-loathing, and hanger (ha) are all-too-common emotions that usually expose themself at some point between climbing partners. We usually accept and move past the worst in each other, because we can relate with that person’s emotion on some level.
We constantly pushed the best within each other, though. Kristina, sweet Kristina, has first and foremost taught me to become a better friend- to be there for your friends and tell them that you love them, and often. She has also pushed me to be a safer climber, not erring on the side of recklessness, a critical aspect in climbing. Laura and I always have had some level of friendly competition between us, but it wasn’t ever something that affected us negatively. I have always admired the strength of her mental game, and she has pushed me to work to become a better sport climber. She often led routes first, and in the spirit of friendly competition, I followed suit as she cheered me on. In that respect, I learned to push myself outside my comfort zone a lot in my first few years of climbing outdoors.
A couple weeks ago, Laura and her boyfriend Liam drove to Grayson Highland State Park in southwestern Virginia to check out some of the boulders, as well as to hang out with me before and after I ran a trail running race in the park. It was a strange feeling, because it was going to be the last time I saw her before she moved, but I was happy they made the drive to Grayson that weekend. I arrived with friends who were running the race with me in late afternoon, the day before my race. Laura and Liam arrived prior and greeted us as we pulled into the campsite, worn from the long five hour drive to get there. The weather forecast had looked particularly ominous for that weekend as well, but somehow the impending storms had staved off for a few more hours. Wanna climb? Laura asked me. Of course! I immediately began digging in my bag to grab my chalk bag and climbing shoes, ecstatic to climb even for an hour or two before the rain arrived.
The next day, I finished my race with Laura and Liam cheering at the finish line. After a sorrowful goodbye and then last-minute promises to visit each other before she actually moved, I left Grayson feeling thankful. Climbing has given me many things in my life thus far, but out of all those, the long-lasting relationships that have developed as a result are definitely the most gratifying, and something I won’t ever take for granted.
I was selfishly sad Laura was moving, fearful that Kristina and I wouldn’t meet another partner with the same high level dedication to climbing outdoors with us, but I was excited for her next adventure. The beauty of climbing partner relationship, I realized, is that there is already a level of commitment between each other from the start. I consoled myself with this thought as our car winded its way up the I-81 N corridor, homeward bound.
I got home, and in typical fashion for me, started looking at flights to Denver. Only $215 roundtrip! I excitedly texted Laura. As we starting initiating plans for a future climbing trip, I realized that maybe there are way more adventures for us to be had together. It might be exciting for a climbing trip together in bigger mountains versus our local chossy crags. Time to start adding to that “To Do” list.