Climbing is akin to love. It’s hard to explain; we endure pain for the joy that comes with discovering ourselves and the planet. – Cory Richards

Rock climbing is hard.

The approach is hard—20 to 30 minutes of ascending toiling, generally not on anything a sane person (i.e. non-climber) would consider a trail. Steep, over fallen boulders and trees, slick with leaves, narrow and windy, always uphill, always with the vague sense that maybe this isn’t the smartest thing to do. And there’s the gear—9 lb rope, harness, shoes, and all the metal hardware to get up the rock, another 10 lbs minimum. When one is not in peak physical condition, the equivalent of a fat baby slung across your shoulders is challenging.

car full of rock climbing gear

Once you get there, gasping and puffing, then you can climb. Climbing is hard. Scraping and swearing up coarse rock, leaving streaks of rubber, blood and occasional tears to mark the route. The rock is hard. It is unforgiving when you slip and smack into it, when you bang an elbow or scrape a knee. It is not soft, not at all. Rough under fingertips rubbed raw after multiple days at the crag, it forces you into strange contortions, challenging your body and your mind with pure lines of crack. It’s addicting.

climbing McConnels Mill State Park PA

 Rock climbing is like an infection, some tiny bacteria that snuck in through a cut, multiplied, and almost without knowing it you’re speaking the lingo—words like “beta” and “redpoint” and “crimper.” You’re wearing the unofficial uniform of patched down jackets and ratty torn pants, spending hundreds of dollars on ropes and carabiners and bits of webbing and tight uncomfortable shoes, driving hundreds of miles so you can haul yourself up hundreds of tiny ledges and holds. It’s hard to figure out why you do this. It’s also hard to rationalize why being a climbing bum isn’t a good (long-term) life choice.

Red River Gorge KY rock climbing

 Climbing is balance. Balance is the pad of one finger gripping a hold the size of a large grain of salt, your weight supported on one toe, while reaching for another hold just past your outstretched fingertips. Balance is hard, delicately hard. It is slotting your hands and feet into a sliver of space in the rock and not only holding the pose but moving on and up. It’s about the flow, about not letting the music stop, even when you can’t hear what note comes next. It is about knowing when to go on, and when to stop. When to push, when to rest. When to give up, and when to try again.

climbing in Obed, Tennessee

 Climbing is companionship. To climb with someone is to bestow a piece of yourself to your partner. Once you are linked by rope, the cord of life stretching between you, there is a unique bond. More than trust, you give each other the gift and honor of life. Nothing is more valuable. It is hard to find a true partner, someone who is not just a belay buddy but rather someone with whom words are unnecessary. Someone who feels the way you move, someone you don’t have to watch because you know what the rope feels like, stretched between you. Someone who pushes you and knows your limits, knows what you can handle, and who knows they can rely on you for everything. Someone who knows you’ll always be there for each other.

climbing Castleton Tower Utah

Everything about climbing is hard, but I love it. It speaks to my soul, to the secret part inside that wishes I could fly, could with a breath be in the sky and sun. Climbing is freedom, the freedom to explore the limits of this physical world we inhabit. It is the way the light shines on the rock, glinting crystals sparkling under your toes and fingers. It is being dirty and sweaty and cold and hot and bleeding and tired and frustrated and elated and terrified and joyful all jumbled together and knowing there is nowhere else you could possibly be but right here and now.

rock climbing Castleton Tower Utah

About The Author

Lauren Smith

Lauren spends most of her time traveling, writing, reading, rock climbing, birding, lusting after mountains, and sometimes working as a field biologist and naturalist (though she’s keen to try her hand at this whole writing business). She hasn't lived in any one place for more than 6 months in quite a long time, but now that she’s landed in Boulder, CO she thinks she might just stay a while. When not holed up with her laptop in a coffee shop, she’s probably doing something fun outside. She blogs here:

6 Responses

  1. Lauren Rains

    Lauren Smith – Lauren, have I told you that you ROCK? I love your mentality and the level you took this piece too. You went beyond the surface and it really shows through. Sidni Giordano I think you'll like this, check it out! Really anyone that loves climbing will love this!

  2. Lauren Smith

    Thanks! I'm so glad you like it! Thanks for giving me the inspiration to finally finish, and the perfect place to share it! Whatever fates dictated that we run into each other in the coffee shop apparently knew what they were doing 🙂 Very excited about OMM and working with you!

  3. Carole

    Having never climbed myself, this article was really helpful at making me understand why people (like my daughter Ms. Lauren Rains!) love doing it. Thanks for sharing what it’s like.

  4. Nick

    It’s hard to explain to others why those of us that like to rock climb do and you did a fantastic job portraying the love anyone who has climbed has for the sport

    • Lauren Smith
      Lauren Smith

      Thanks so much for the kind words! It’s taken me a long time to be able to articulate how much climbing means to me, because it’s such a complex relationship– just like any other love 🙂