Our University’s average climbing wall
I’m not a super strong climber, nor am I obsessed to the point of always talking and thinking about climbing. But over the past 8 years of my life climbing has been my go-to main hobby and a major influencer in my life personally. Its kept me mentally awake, challenged, fit, and shown me spectacularly beautiful things. Even more, its opened my eyes to the world.
My freshman year of college was my first foray into climbing, where I regularly visited our University’s indoor wall. I was very poor, but it was free if you had your own gear. All I could afford were the cheapest shoes at REI so I only bouldered. I made my own chalk bag out of a zip lock bag and duct tape. I went on various day trips with our club into northern Georgia and Alabama and I learned my basic principles of knots and safety.
But my view of climbing as a “gym rat” was very narrow and I had no idea an entire community existed of climbing bums, travelers, and world experiences.
My campers on a climbing day in Rocky Mountain National Park
Adventuring extrordinair Lauren celebrating finishing a route.
I was trapped in the south, but I needed more rock to climb. I had just finished interning for an entire year as an contract engineer around the country and I was tired of being professional. The summer of 2009 I packed my car drove to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado to be a summer camp counselor at Camp Cheley. Among many other jobs, I took the kids out climbing once or twice a week. On my off days, I climbed with this badass chick named Lauren Foster who taught me how to lead climb. I explored the beauty of Colorado both by rope and hiking, falling in love to the point that I would eventually move there. That summer I learned that a high paying job wasn’t everything
Still, I hadn’t fully grasped exactly what the “climbing community” was yet. Then I met Sean Kolk. He was the president of our climbing club and for spring break one year back in the south he led us on a trip, to Red River Gorge, Kentucky, that changed my life.
Sean Kolk and Jhung sharing a moment at Red River Gorge 2010
Miguel’s Pizza, a real climber’s campground
The Red is a unique place not only for its endless sandstone cliffs of climbing, but also for its community of year around climbers who camp for days, weeks, even months on end. Everyone camps at the same spot: Miguel’s Pizza. This pizza shop-turned camp ground is famous the world around for the climber-centric community that lives in Miguel’s backyard. I was fascinated with these hair-dreaded weirdos who spent all their climbing and never showered, and I wanted to know more. We had an incredible time eating sub-par canned food over a camp stove, bleeding our fingers off from climbing, playing board games, and sitting around a fire at night. It was there I slacklined for the first time. I learned that you could have an incredible time for very little money.
A Mexican boy visiting from Monterrey climbed for the first time with Hunter and I.
It was also there with Sean that I overheard people talking about this sweet climbing spot in Mexico called Potrero Chico. The beer was cheap, the sport climbing routes long, and the weather perfect in the winter. It sounded ripe for adventure.
Me on Snott Girlz with Bjorn
Mexico changed me. I had just finished 5 years of grueling engineering studies at an prestigious university, and I was burnt out. After a second summer in Colorado working at the camp, I would end up spending an additional 6 months in Potrero Chico, learning to speak decently fluent Spanish, climbing a ton, and even building the locals a non-profit climbing tourism website (that is now the first hit on Google and linked to by National Geographic). I slowed down in Mexico, I enjoyed making amazing friends with the locals, and I gained a revealing perspective of the United States from the other side of the border. I learned that you can be happy no matter what country or situation you find yourself in, and I learned what it felt like to go broke.
My amazing Mexican friends who adopted me, at Dios de los Puentes
After months of camping in the desert in Mexico, I had met hundreds of world traveling climbers passing through the famous sport climbing paradise. I had heard enthralling stories of other climbing spots in the world, epic climbing tales, and alternative views on what we make our priority in life. Climbing had opened my mind.
The winners of the World Sport Climbing Competition 2011, in Boulder, Colorado
After that adventure, I moved to Boulder, Colorado, where I was drawn in by the promise of outdoor climbing minutes away (and winter skiing when it got too cold to climb). Boulder is one of the climbing capitals in the world, many of the strongest climbers live there. For instance, I attended both the national and world sport climbing competitions at my local climbing gym the first two years I was there. Boulder is a relaxed, small town where, despite having the largest number of PhD’s per capital, everyone loves the outdoors and truly values a work-life balance.
From Colorado, all of the west was open for exploring. I climbed the majestic Devils Tower in Wyoming, Indian Creek in Utah, Yosemite National Park in California, and Red Rocks Canyon in Nevada. Most recently, it brought me to the tropical, world-famous climbing mecca in Tonsai, Thailand.
The brilliant Red Rocks, Nevada
My love for climbing brought me to learning ice climbing, mountaineering, and slacklining. I’ve camped, hiked, and made incredible memories on climbing trips. Its given me adrenaline rushes, and it refuels me in life. Its gotten me off the couch, out of my comfort city, and into the great outdoors.
The beach of Tonsai, Thailand
I’ve come to understand people better. As a climber who travels, you put your life in the hands of the new people you meet who belay you. I’ve gotten to know and trust wonderful people from countries all over the world. After a long and tiring day of climbing, its a such a great feeling to share the day’s adventures and stories with other tired climbers at camp.
My world was much smaller before I became a climber.