Lately, climbing has scared the crap out of me. Within my circle of climbing friends I definitely complain the most about being scared and feel helplessly restrained by my second-guessing and over-thinking. But then I met Alice. She talks about being panicked … almost more than me. The difference is that she talks about being terrified and exploring new climbing areas, trying new climbs, falling on vertical walls in the same breath. She has a constant willingness to put herself in scary situations while being completely aware that she is scared.
LH: You moved to Boston without knowing anyone. How has climbing helped you expand your community in an unfamiliar place?
AC: Actually back in Seattle I was in grad school and found bouldering. It was such a social activity that it was one of the ways I ended up expanding my community. I was one of the few people in my program who regularly worked out and found new friends to boulder with me at our school’s climbing gym. I was also lucky to come to Boston at a time when new communities were being formed in the recently opened gyms. Participating in something that was evolving made it much easier to meet people who were more open to new faces, although climbers in general are pretty social.
LH: This is the first season you’ve climbed outside, but you seem to have bitten off a lot! You’ve been trying to learn how to sport lead and trad lead at the same time. What do you love about each discipline?
AC: Even though I started out as a “boulderer”, after I hurt my back, I’ve really stuck to doing anything with a rope. Lead climbing is that great blur in between bouldering and toproping because you’re still at risk of falling! Because this was my first season outdoors, I signed up for an AMC class to learn essential skills. They took us to the Gunks to learn how to lead belay and second trad, and I was hooked. There’s a lot more awareness in trad climbing, even in seconding, because you have to figure out how to get to the exact place your leader went and remove the gear. I take trad leading at a different pace, and it feels more like an exploration of the rock. Because everyone is a different size and there are no bolts telling you exactly where you need to go, your line can go any number of ways.
LH: I’m just in awe of how hard you push yourself. Even though you’re always talking about being scared and having a relatively weak mental game, you are constantly trying to get outside to face those demons. What would you say to someone who maybe doesn’t have the energy to constantly push like you do?
AC: Ha, yes, I always have doubts about my climbing ability. In fact, climbing outside made me more scared to climb inside. From climbing outside, I realized how risky climbing can be when you don’t know what you’re doing, and that just being inside doesn’t mean you are safe.
I’d say climbing outside and being scared is worth the experience. There are very few times you get to choose to experience that kind of fear and uncertainty about yourself. You’ll learn how to control it, how to accept it, and work with it. There will always be opportunities in life when you’ll be scared and uncertain about things. Why not start with something as fun as climbing?
LH: So when you start getting “Elvis-leg”, you must be reminding yourself of that rewarding feeling once you’re at the top. What’s your proudest moment?
AC: A couple weeks ago, I was at the Gunks with a group of new people that wanted me to set up this traversing thin face crack climb for them. I thought to myself, “I can do a 5.6!” — but it was so scary and I had to take on my gear. I coached myself through the climb to the top by thinking, “god, this is a 5.6 so there HAS to be hand holds somewhere…this is not out of your grade range…they have to be there!” There’s this total paralysis that can come on from fear.
Alice, you have got some chutzpah. I admire the way you let your heart pound, but not stop you. We love your rock roots!
Thanks, Lily, for featuring inspiring climbers like Alice in your Rock Roots feature! If there is anyone out there who you believe has interesting “rock roots”, send us an email at: cruxcrush at gmail dot com!