Photograph by Jared O’Brien
Thunk, kick, kick, repeat. Hand, foot, foot.
One slow movement followed by the next: it’s the smallest of steps we take when we start pushing our boundaries. I moved in small increments on a safely anchored top rope, awkwardly clinging to tools but still, inching to the top.
This was the beginning of my first ice climb in Colorado, now six years ago. Nervously wielding technical ice tools for the first time and wearing too many hand-me-down layers for warmth, I clambered up a twenty-five meter wall of ice with my at the time boyfriend’s father belaying me from below.
I’ve been climbing ice for six years and rock for four, and when I tell people this, they are surprised at the lack of chronological order. Rest assured, I was a beginner for many, many years. I had trouble walking in crampons (metal plates with spikes that serve as attachments to winter boots for mountaineering or technical ice climbing) so much that on my first day, I fell into an ice cold stream while trying to cross a log.
Photograph by Peter Hoang
Things got much easier after that; I didn’t fall into as many streams.
I didn’t find rock climbing (or rather, it didn’t find me) until I moved to New York City two years later. Although I didn’t know it then, there was a world of nature and movement that was waiting for me to embrace it.
Photograph by Day Acheson
I started working full-time in a Soho gear shop, and my days off were spent climbing outdoors as much as humanly possible. I soon realized that rock climbing is not like ice climbing, and its gymnastics-like movement lent itself well to my body type. Where athleticism and straight up burly power is necessary on ice, rock climbing required much more agility than strength.
I liked that rock climbing played to my strengths, and the better I became, the more motivated I was to keep moving. Sometimes, when you start gaining the downhill momentum, it’s hard to stop or know where you’ll stop. And I knew that I didn’t want to – there was really no going back to the person I used to be.
I won’t lie; I used rock climbing as a way to escape the bitter breakup I’d endured. I climbed past the emotionally turbulent days as I continued to spend time learning and being humbled. The rock doesn’t change; you do.
At first, being able to learn how to climb higher and place gear was a life preserver that I desperately clung to as I wondered where the poetry and peace in my life went. Climbing made me happy because I was in a world of devastation, and I was constantly looking to escape it. In exploring a world of outdoors sports, I had to lay down my pain and anger because carrying it around with me was making it hard to climb, and even worse, making it hard to live.
Pain can be another form of gravity that weighs you down.
I no longer run away but instead, run towards the things that fuel my passions. It took me years, but I finally learned the difference between the two. I continue to travel and climb because there is a constant reminder that it’s the awkward first steps we take that lay the foundation to any new beginning. And to those of us with a goal to climb higher, every beginning starts from the ground, up.