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Forged From Fear

Fear isn’t all or nothing, especially in climbing. The wisest climbers I know have a healthy balance of fear and courage. They assess the rock, calculate risk factors, adjust their positioning, and use their energy rationally.

By: Heather DuBrall + Save to a List

I started climbing in the winter of 2017, and I fell in love on day one. A friend introduced me to the sport by inviting me to climb at Seattle Bouldering Project (SBP). With over 13,000sq ft of bouldering, a café, a mezzanine lounge, and yoga and fitness classes galore, it is the mecca of bouldering gyms in the Greater Seattle Area.

People who haven't climbed before often have a preconceived notion that climbing is only for the wildest adventurers, but that’s far from the truth. There are different grades varying in difficulty. It can feel like you’re climbing a ladder on the side of your house or it can feel like you’re on the upside-down stairway in Labyrinth, trying to catch baby Toby (AKA climbing team kids), who's climbing around the stairway like there’s no tomorrow.

Everyone starts from square zero when they first get into the sport. What makes a difference over time is the dedication to becoming stronger and mastering the techniques that make it easier to ascend the wall. It’s not about brute strength, it’s about learning how to read the route, figuring out how to position and move your body, and having the determination to send the route, despite how hard it is or how afraid you are.

Some of us are born with the ability to push our fears aside without a second thought, others must continually challenge themselves to push past the barriers that keep us lost in fear. If you’re not afraid at all you’re more likely to take high-consequence risks, which can result in injury (or death). If you’re too afraid you might find yourself frozen on the wall, unable to move in either direction (it’s not a fun place to be, trust me).

It’s not whether you have all the fear or none.

Fear isn’t all or nothing, especially in climbing. The wisest climbers I know have a healthy balance of fear and courage. They assess the rock, calculate risk factors, adjust their positioning, and use their energy rationally.

It’s not about throwing yourself around on the wall (although it’s totally fun to try hard and fail sloppily), it’s about moving your body in cadence with the rock. When you find the right movements, you start to flow almost like a duet between yourself and each of the holds. You push then pull, you’re tense and then relaxed, you sway to and fro shifting your weight as you dance up the wall. You become lost in the rhythm of movement, you’re fully present and aware of yourself and the rock, nothing more. Some would describe it as a moving meditation.

When I started climbing, I was riddled with anxiety and fear. On my first day, I spent 45 minutes in SBP’s parking lot trying to find the courage just to walk through the door. There were so many people there, my social anxiety tried to convince me to drive away and save myself from the shame and embarrassment of sucking at something new. But I was curious and stubborn, I refused to walk away from the chance to try something new. As it so happens, my experience was wondrous.

I awkwardly climbed up the walls on some gray and yellow-colored routes, which were graded as V0-V2. I watched in amazement as others moved with grace and consistency. I wondered how they managed to move their bodies so elegantly while I shook and stumbled moving from one hold to the next. It was embarrassing at first, but I quickly learned that the climbing community is entirely supportive and nonjudgmental.

I was new to the sport, but I came into it with a try-hard attitude. I received support and encouragement as I struggled with more difficult problems, and I was given praise when I finally sent them. There was one route that especially captivated me. I struggled to figure out how to move past the crux but I watched more experienced climbers dyno from the start to the finish, so I knew anything was possible!

I struggled and failed for some time, but my stubbornness kept me from walking away in defeat, I was determined to figure it out. It only took a simple body adjustment to finally move past the crux. Sometimes the smallest change can make all the difference. The climbers clapped and shouted in joy as soon as I grabbed the top of the wall, finally sending my first project. I could feel something bubbling inside myself, the psyche was high as I downclimbed the route I had just completed.

To try and to fail repeatedly is hard work and can be unforgiving, but to fight and overcome challenges to reach your goal is beyond rewarding.

You challenge yourself to keep moving despite the struggle. You break through your predetermined boundaries despite your previous belief in the impossible. You shed the layers of fear and forge a new, more capable version of yourself.

I was once afraid to put myself out there, to try new things, to be around new people, but not anymore. Climbing has shown me that I’m stronger than I think I am, and I’m more capable than I give myself credit for. I know myself so much more intimately now - and to think if I let myself walk away from the experience because of fear, I would not be the woman I am today.

Written by: Nomad, She Wrote

Photography by: Ryan Lundbohm

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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