For the past six or so years of my climbing career the majority has been dependant on climbing with others. I started out in a gym where I would text my friends to come climbing before I went and sometimes not go if no one else was. Although climbing is one of the few sports that you can actually do alone, the sense of community is the essence of climbing. I can’t stress that the community in climbing is what makes it such a great sport, the type of people you meet and the trust that you build with each other’s lives in your hands. It creates bonds that an afternoon of badminton never could.
But off my little philosophical stool, I’m here to talk about Climbing Alone.
This past week, I spent some time in Colorado trying to learn about where to climb in the massive state. Not only did I end up lost pretty much every day, but unlike in Europe, the crags were relatively empty except on the weekends and most days I found myself all alone trying to climb.
My motivation in my head was extremely high, but when I walked up to the first boulders at Horsetooth near Fort Collins, Colorado, I suddenly realized that a 10m v0 even wasn’t going to happen by myself. I tried to think positive, but then a low rattling sound made my heart drop – a rattlesnake lay across the path, just a few feet from my legs. The dry jingle of it’s tail made me realize even moreso that if I was bitten I would still be all alone. I backed up and moved to a high line of boulders, hoping that the snake would stay where it was. I decided to make up some problems, tossing the guidebook aside and taking what low climbs I could handle, something this guidebook guzzling girl never would dream of before. The sound of my shoes on the ground and the shuffling of the mat left a hallow feeling like I would hear the snake again instead, so I put on some music just like I was at the indoor gym.
After an hour or so of some attempts to spot myself, trying to fall exactly where the mats where (and of course missing), I concluded I was probably going to be fine.
When we are on our own, whether we mean to or not we start to err on the side of caution.
I decided to walk down to a v5 traverse I knew was low and long, promising hours worth of relatively safe entertainment. I brought my bank of supplies with me, my two measly mats, my phone playing music and body ready to get some ‘real’ climbing in.
The hours crept by. I tried the problem a few times, but struggled at the end, worried that I actually had to do 80% of the problem without a mat at all. But it was fine.
I was worried that my motivation would straggle and I would sit around like I sometimes do with my friends and stare off into space or just watch others climb. But when it’s only you, it’s almost easier. No one is watching and you really find out how much you actually like climbing. I tried the v5 over and over and I found I was getting exhausted in just a few hours. With no one else to show me how it was done or to make me rest, I was tired pretty quickly and found just a few hours enough for a full day.
I continued to another boulder called the Meditation Boulder, where my two mats were definitely not enough, and decided to do some easy face climbs. I got to the flat and wide top of the boulder and had a seat, suddenly lost in the expansive view afforded me. It was quiet except for the wind and the faint twinkle of my cell phone playing some song I could barely make out and in that moment, I was glad I was alone.
In the stillness of the Meditation Boulder I suddenly heard a sound and snapped my head towards it. I saw a few boulder mats poking from the dry bush near the water. The voice carried and I could see the approaching climber – another soul to save me! I quickly down-climbed and gathered my things. I’m not usually the type of person who runs to speak to others unless they are my friends, but I couldn’t resist having a conversation, a climbing partner and some more mats.
That’s the thing about being alone, you really start seeing other people as opportunities rather than someone to be judged or not good enough to climb with you. Everyone can bring something special to your day.
I rushed over trying to be cool asking if I could try the traverse with him. I was ecstatic on the inside, I knew I would take anyone. But in a few moments of his incessant chatter and complaints at failure because of a hangboard session the night before, I felt all too quickly that being alone wasn’t so bad after all. But then I realized that we need companionship and that he was just a passionate climber, just like me, brave enough to bare the dusty rocks alone too; we we’re one and the same and I was glad for the company at the mats.
Feeling worn out, I walked back up the trail to my car, so tired I hardly noticed where I was going. I suddenly realized that I was on the snake path and quickly shuffled onto a boulder instead of the path. I stopped, breathing a sigh of relief that he wasn’t hiding the bushes or on the rock. I paused and decided to turn back just to see if he was still there, to reassure myself that I had even seen him at all. I dropped my bags and crept along the path and sure enough there he was. In the same position on the side of the path, guarding the way to the boulders, ensuring that no one else could pass. I thought to myself, perhaps he wasn’t out to bite me at all, but maybe he was there to watch over me, to keep all those other people away, so I could climb alone in peace.