Today Lily He brings us another story of the “every day climber” in her series Rock Roots. This time around it’s Massachusetts native and 5.12 climber, Hannah Waight. Here’s more from Lily:
For a lot of us, our time outside is limited and we can get a little TOO focused on our agenda for the day. Hannah is the girl at the crag who is always laughing or talking about something non-climbing related with her partners, pulling the rest of us towards a more sane equilibrium. Her conversations at crag are those you can’t help but eavesdrop on…(I mean, she was talking about living in China, I couldn’t help it!)
LH: How were you introduced into climbing?
HW: I have no idea where I got the idea, but for my 9th birthday, all I wanted to do was climb. My dad took me to an adult guided climbing trip to Crow Hill, and I remember thinking it was scary. After that, I would climb at summer camps but really wanted to be a self-sufficient climber and not rely on institutions. When I went to college, I joined the Harvard Mountaineering Club (HMC) and found the Engberg family, who took me under their wing and taught me that self-sufficiency I was looking for. The HMC took me on great trips, with more of an emphasis on trad and mountaineering. I would really like to get more trad pitches under my belt to get rid of my nerves – I actually think that the movement in trad climbing is more intuitive!
LH: I’ve heard you talk about climbing in international locations – where have you been? What should someone think about when climbing abroad?
HW: I spent two winter breaks in El Potrero Chico, Mexico, moved to China for a year after I graduated, and guided in Vietnam. Especially in China, climbing was a great way for me to meet local people; it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeking out Americans to hang out with.
You should be prepared for cultural clashes. One of my first times climbing in China was with a group of Chinese guys and my American friend Sam. They didn’t know what to make of Sam and me, since we told them we weren’t dating. Later, it was getting a bit hot, and without thinking, I took off my shirt to climb in a sports bra. I remembered where I was and realized “ooh, that’s not really okay” and had to put it back on. My male Chinese climber friends couldn’t quite figure me out – they gave me the nickname “Huang Rong”, which is the name of this character who wears dirty rags but at the end of the story is revealed to be a beautiful princess.
I think that whenever you go to a new area, you should learn about the history and who/how it was bolted; if you’re trad climbing, you need to learn about rock quality. The crags I climbed at in Vietnam were all bolted by the owners of my guiding company, so they gave me the run down. The crags in China are limestone and bolted with expansion bolts. When I heard this, I freaked out because the little I do know about hardware is that you should NOT mix expansion bolts with limestone! Turns out seaside limestone is different than inland limestone, so expansion bolts are safe on inland limestone.
LH: You’ve taken some time off from climbing. What happened, and how did you come back to climbing?
HW: I have two bad elbows, and doctors told me to stop running/skiing/climbing and allow them to heal. After a year, my elbows weren’t getting better, so I did a Skype consultation with Dr. J from Rock and Ice, and he told me that I shouldn’t have stopped climbing because I needed to get blood flowing in that area. He gave me exercises to break up the scar tissue, and I started a journal where I wrote down daily how bad my pain was. I realized that my pain was mental – it wasn’t as bad as I originally thought.
LH: You’ve experienced a lot in ~8 years of climbing. How has your outlook on climbing evolved?
HW: My close friend, Jimmy, died on Mount Washington in a mountaineering accident. I think people understand that climbing is risky, BUT at the same time, think nothing will happen to them because they do X or Y. His death made me realize that accidents do happen, and has made me rethink how experienced I am or how much I really want to excel at mountaineering.
I still don’t have 100% of my mental resilience or strength back from before my injury, but what’s interesting is that my body never forgot how to move. At the gym, I’m aware that I could have done this move two years ago, and maybe get a bit embarrassed. But when I was younger, I would work a move because I wanted others to see me do it and perceive me as strong. My injury is a blessing in disguise because it has changed my motivations. Climbing is addictive because there is very clear progression that drives a strong feedback loop. As I’ve come back to climbing (but haven’t been able to go all out), I’ve realized that I climb to spend time with people, which is a much more sustainable reason to climb. Long (or short) trips away from civilization seem to foster the best conversations, give the opportunity for incredible mentorships, and create deep connections with other people. As my friend Jimmy said, ‘Keep enjoying the best part of climbing, a good partner.’
Hannah, your mindset in your comeback to climbing, and awareness of what climbing is for you shows a type of mental strength that I will strive for. We love your rock roots!