So, you’re still doing the climbing thing?

This is a question that’s come up a few times recently. And it always takes me back a little. “Oh, so you’re still doing the climbing thing?”

I started climbing 5 years ago. I wandered into a climbing gym to get a gift certificate for someone else, but as soon as I saw those walls I knew I had to come back and climb for myself. And I did. The next week I went back on my own and climbed the auto-belays until I got hooked up with a group of folks to climb with. In the five years I’ve been climbing, I’ve spent a lot of time in the gym, but I’ve moved as much of my climbing outdoors as possible, climbing in Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, California, Nevada, and Colorado. I’ve done big multi-pitch climbs, climbed a mountain, and have ventured into the world of trad leading. I’m still doing the climbing thing. And I have no intentions of stopping any time soon.

This question makes me think, though. What *is* this climbing thing that I’m doing? Why do I love it so much? And why don’t I share that more with non-climbers?

Nearing the summit of the Grand Teton

Nearing the summit of the Grand Teton

In my calendar, climbing takes up one to two nights a week at the gym. When the weather’s right, I’ll be out a few times a month on the rocks nearby (or ice in the winter). And then there are usually a few big trips a year out to places with bigger and better rocks.

For me, climbing is so much more than a fun activity. It also makes me a better person. That probably sounds a bit cheesy, but there it is. Dealing with the risks and the fear involved in climbing makes most of the stuff in my daily life seem pretty small and manageable. It puts things in perspective. A challenging lead climb in the gym makes the rest of my week feel calmer. When I’m doing the bigger stuff, a nice multi-pitch climb perhaps, a lot of the unimportant stuff melts away. My goals are to stay alive, to stay as safe as possible, and to hopefully have a successful climb. That’s it. No room for worrying about anything else.

That simplicity bleeds into the rest of my life. I find myself more and more wanting to keep things simple in all aspects of my life. When climbing, simple is better. A simple anchor system is easy to check. Simplicity is often the most efficient, and efficiency is key when moving up big rocks. My life works better that way, too. The simpler the better. I want to spend time with the people that I love. I want to fill my life with things that I enjoy. I want to do good work and contribute to the world in a positive way. Anything that gets in the way of those things just complicates everything.

Looking for the next move

Out at Taylors Falls, MN

So, yes, climbing is a big part of my life. And it’s about more than just the climbing. But, I’m not very good at sharing that with my friends and family who don’t climb. I know that to some it seems really scary. “That’s crazy” is a response that I’ve gotten very used to hearing. I tell my mother that I’m going on trips, but I don’t give her the details. I know that it makes her worry, and I don’t want to do that to her.

The risks that we take climbing are hard to explain to non-climbers. In a society where risks are seen as something to be avoided, I’m sure it’s baffling to see people who deliberately choose to do something that’s seen as risky. Yes, climbing is statistically pretty safe, but the consequences of things going wrong are big. It’s a calculated risk, and it’s one that I’ve decided is worth it. I’d rather take that calculated risk than to sit in my home feeling afraid of the world. I’ve been there before, afraid of the world, and it was no fun. Climbing is a big reason that I’m not there anymore.

Calculated risk. That’s where I think we, as climbers, can connect with others about what we do. There’s a saying that goes “do something that scares you every day.” That scary thing is different for each person, but it exists for everyone, and I think that’s where we can find some common ground. What is that thing for them? Why do they do it, or maybe dream about doing it?

I’m interested in hearing how you connect with non-climbers about your climbing. Is it important to you that your friends and loved ones understand what climbing is to you? Or do you generally avoid talking about it? If you share, where do you find common ground?

9 thoughts on “So, you’re still doing the climbing thing?

  1. Sarah

    I usually don’t bother going into details with non-climbers. Interestingly I’ve noticed that if someone has a hobby or activity that they are equally passionate about, they have an understanding of the appeal of climbing. Otherwise it’s a bit of a dead end for conversation as a lot of non-climbers can’t relate so don’t have much to say on the topic.

    1. Elizabeth Post author

      That’s interesting. I like the idea of using that level of passion to connect with someone, too. Thanks, Sarah, I’ll remember that!

  2. mariblahblah

    Eliz! Great job articulating this point, so eloquently! I think it’s clarity, right? It pushes the mundacity of the day-to-day out of the way and provides crystal-clear focus/ i.e. the zone. Somewhere out there, there’s a fantastic publication about that, and what it means for your life. I’m preeeeetty sure it’s not a bad thing.

    1. Elizabeth Post author

      Ah yes. The zone. I love that place. I remember very clearly being in the zone on my first trad lead. Everything went away except for that one thing I was doing at that moment. This move, this gear placement. Just me, the route, and the clanking of gear on my harness. So amazing.

  3. 3Up Beth

    Oh man Liz! This! All of this!

    I’m not a climber but this is how I feel about climbing mountains–big or small! I get asked all the time when I’m going to be done… I’m NOT and that’s the point.

    I basically believe that there is risk in everything we do (the riskiest being riding in cars…) so being *aware* of that risk is the most important thing I can think of. Climbing and mountaineering definitely remind you that there is risk in the world, that we are mortal, and that we have to make the most of life while we get to live it.


    1. Elizabeth Post author

      Thanks, Beth! I like your perspective on risk, that climbing mountains *reminds* you that there is risk in the world, and to live life to the fullest. I’m not sure that I’ve thought about it in exactly that way before.

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  5. Kevin

    Always love hearing about what people get out of climbing. Over at we try to aggregate climbing stories of all kinds, so I hope that it’s brought you a bit more traffic. Keep up the great posts!

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