03 June 2015

Dear Climbing: I Quit

"In climbing we have a unique tradition of quitting our jobs, moving into our vans and tents and living on next to nothing so that we can climb every day. Climbing is not a sport that can be excelled at by training in your spare time. It requires an immersive lifestyle, absolute commitment." - Cedar Wright, in a Time Magazine article celebrating the life of Dean Potter.

I call myself a climber. It's part of my identity - both in how I view myself personally and in how I present myself to the world. My Facebook is full of rock climbing photos. My Twitter and Instgram list me as a "climber, skier, runner, and LIFE enthusiast."

Bogert Park
In my mind, I've always been a climber. I had a tree house as a kid and loved nothing more than scrambling the branches to my personal outdoor sanctuary. In Bozeman - the town where I grew up - a very old and very tall evergreen tree sits in the heart of Bogert Park. The local kids know it's the best tree to climb in the whole world. I've been back to visit it as an adult too. I can say with confidence it's still the best tree ever.

Climbing existed in my life before I knew about rocks or pulling plastic at climbing gyms. I always sought opportunities to be outside, and when I was feeling troubled by something I would ride my bike along the trail by my house to the gas station corner store to buy way-too-much candy, which I would eat in the park and think about life before I knew what it meant to think about life.

I left my idyllic Montana childhood where adventure was always out the back door and I moved to a new adventure in the big city of Seattle. At the University of Washington, I spent little time outside other than walking to class and marching band practice (yes, I was in marching band). My first five years in Pacific Northwest were pretty wasted.

Patagonia is incredible.
It wasn't until a 2007 trip to Patagonia that rock climbing became this thing I wanted to do. On that trip I got to know this awesome chick Kristi, and we became regular climbing partners. She had been climbing for a while and slowly taught me all her tricks: high-steps and heel-hooks, using opposing force rather than brute force, focusing on breathing and not over-gripping, finding the flow in each climb, enjoying the movement. Over the course of a casual two-years, Kristi took me from a 5.6 newbie to a confident 5.9 top-rope climber.

In early 2010, I went through a break-up and reassessed what I wanted from life. I prioritized losing weight and, 20lbs lighter, I no longer just liked climbing, I like liked climbing. Quickly I jumped into a serious-climbing-relationship and became a 10b lead-climber. I couldn't get enough. I knew I'd found something special.

Climbing and I enjoyed many long weekends together in local favorites like Smith and Mazama, and traveled near and far together to Red Rocks, El Potrero Chico, and Croatia. I tried to give back to climbing by spreading my knowledge and teaching others to climb safely to grow my coalition of climbing friends. It wasn't enough that I loved climbing, everyone I knew needed to love climbing too. I surrounded myself with like-minded people and we formed The Group, a rotating crew of truly exceptional people who have brought so much richness to my life.

The Group in Red Rocks

This blog does not have adequate space for me to communicate what this community means to me. From fitting eight people into a tiny sedan in Mexico to discovering an over-ground drug smuggling ring adjacent to a Croatian crag, I've made enough memories chasing my climbing dreams to last a lifetime. For me, climbing will always represent some of the happiest times in my life spent with the most supportive community around.

And yet, lately I feel only emptiness when it comes to climbing.

Like any relationship, climbing and I have our ups and downs. You have to take the good with the bad. Working full time I spent the better part of three years to immersing myself in climbing. I wasn't quite living in my car, but I visited the gym twice-a-week religiously and spent most of my weekends climbing. Since I started tracking in January 2012, I've made 231 visits to the gym or crag. My life has revolved around a 9.8mm, 70metre rope.

My style on any given weekend.
Now I've found myself feeling differently and it is so, so hard to admit. I've been feeling this way for years actually, and I have struggled with the reality that is staring me in the face: I do not love climbing anymore. In fact, I don't even like it.

This change has been slow. First, I met Backcountry Skiing. Then I landed an awesome job where I am constantly challenged mentally, leaving too few brain cells in the 'mental reserve' to focus on climbing at the end of the day. Then I went to Norway and discovered Turns All Year and found out how much I love skiing in a tutu on big volcanoes.

As a result, I made choices to do things other than climbing while telling myself, "I'm still a climber." I even planned a trip to Thailand to prove it. I trained but it was too little too late, and as a result the trip was a disappointment. I was frustrated that my on-site ability had fallen, that I got stumped on easy-for-me climbs, that my endurance was down. I only have myself to blame for not acknowledging my own reality.

I came home from Thailand and struggled with health issues for months - which I used to cover up for the fact that I didn't want to climb. It was relieved to discover I had a parasite causing my physical and mental distress, but, even though my recovery is still ongoing (apparently one can suffer from Post Traumatic Digestive Syndrome), I still don't want to climb. It's just not fun anymore.

Confronting this reality is hard. I shared three amazing years with climbing (then two not-as-amazing years) and it used to bring me so much happiness and personal satisfaction. It challenged me physically and mentally. It provided some of my highest highs and my lowest lows. Chasing climbing opportunities took me to seven countries on four continents. Climbing gave me my first outdoor community and chosen family. It gave me you.

And now I have to look at climbing and say, "I quit." It's not that it's too hard or that I'm out of shape or that I have other things I like more. I believe humans are capable of having more than one passion in their lives. It doesn't make me happy anymore and I'm done trying to force myself to love it again.

Quitting climbing isn't like bailing on a fad workout. It means leaving behind a community of people and risking that I won't be an important piece of their lives anymore. That they won't be part of mine. It means missing out on experiences and memories and this immersive lifestyle that I know should bring me so much joy.

But sometimes humans are faced with hard choices, and right now I have to admit that climbing isn't what it used to be for me.

So I quit - I'm done climbing. Probably not forever, maybe not even for long, but I feel grounded enough in this decision that I've taken my climbing harness out of my trunk and cancelled my gym membership. I don't have any plans to climb this summer and there are no trips to climbing destinations on the horizon.

I'm sharing this with you because it's been a real internal struggle for me, and I think it's important to recognize when something is no longer working for you - when it no longer brings value and richness to your life. There's strength in knowing your limits. Power in being true to yourself.

I do not view this as a personal failure. Climbing and I had five good years together and now we're parting ways. I am not sure if this is a passing feeling or if I'll always feel this way, but I hope that I can continue to look back on my time climbing with fond memories. Perhaps someday I will find myself once again clinging tightly to tiny holds on the side of a rock face, but until then, I'm excited to see what happens next.


Nicole Hammond said...

It takes great strength to know your limits, indeed. I can relate to some of these feelings. Good for you for not only recognizing but embracing the possibilities of one passion put on pause while others roll in to fill the gap. Enjoy skiing, until the next wonderful thing captures your heart!

Piper Bagley said...



Chris Langston said...

Can I interest you in cycling? Point83.com, we're a rowdy fun group with lots of adventures in a low pressure, relaxed (beer!) crowd.

Chris Langston said...

Can I interest you in cycling? Point83.com, we're a rowdy fun group with lots of adventures in a low pressure, relaxed (beer!) crowd.

Janet said...

I went through sometime similar about a year and a half ago. I took a break from climbing during grad school. When I finished, tried to get back in it but it just didn't seem as fun and by then I had found my volleyball crew. It was and still is hard to admit that I've quit. I still tell myself that I'll try again someday. Currently I'm waiting for my knee to heal from surgery before I try again and see if I like it again. The climbing community is an amazing group.
I definitely can't wait to see what you do next. You live your life for the adventures and experiences. It's very inspiring. Good luck :)

Ginny said...

I just this year had to admit this same thing to myself about horse back riding. I have always been that girl, you know, that horse crazy girl. I dreamed about horses, I talked about horses and I spent every single day at the barn with my horses. But over the last couple years it started to feel like I had to make myself go to the barn and hang out with my horses. I started to feel guilty about it all. Finally after over a year of talking and debating about it I finally sold my last mare. And I sat in my car and sobbed like an absolute baby. Not for the lose of the horse but for the lose of the lifestyle. The circle of friends, the people I associated with, the "thing" I did. This was who I WAS for the love of god! But it wasn't me any more. Once I finished crying I started the process of redefining myself. I don't think horses are out of my life forever, but now I am free to pick a new hobby, new interests, new friends.

Linatron said...

I know you posted this a bit ago, but I just now saw it (linked through your recent post about Petra) and I wanted to say that I am always 100% amazed by your strength and how true you always are to you. It is inspiring to read about making hard choices, that are the RIGHT choices for you, regardless of what your multiple outdoor communities might think or say. While I'll miss your beautiful, smiling face in the climbing gym, I hope to see you on the slopes (animal onesies day!!!). You remain, as always, a bright shiny light :)

Facundo Suárez said...

I came to your post looking for any article about people who quits climbing. As you must imagine, I'm also thinking of quitting climbing. It's been a hell of a ride for the last 7 years for me, but lately I have felt that it just drains too much energy (socially, with my partner, with my family, on the trips, on the workouts) and the return is not as good as I would expect for the energy I spend into this sport.

On the one heand, I live on a city and I have to drive 5 hrs to get a 65 ft real rock wall, and around 12 hrs for a 700 ft wall. Also for one reason or another most of the people I climbed with already quit (injury, age, expectations whatever) and I'm climbing mostly with my partner only. And guess what, he doesn't want to make the enormous efforts anymore (to drive 12 hrs, to sleep 5, to ask for days off, to struggle with weather, to spend the entire summer vacation on a climbing adventure).

So every day I'm thinking more and more about quitting climbing. And since you already did at least 6 months ago, I would like to know how it turned out for you. Did you ever regret it? did you go back to your 70mt rope? did the people from the climbing community try to pull you back in? Thanks a lot for sharing. I hope your life is full of adventures with the other sports :)

Kristina said...

Hi Facundo -

Thanks for your comment, and for reading my blog. I can completely understand what you're going through.

To answer your question - no, I do not at all regret 'quitting' climbing. It's been 8 months since I touched a rope, and while I certainly miss aspects of climbing - my community of friends, the fitness it brought to my life, the opportunity to measure progress against easily defined goals - I do not yet feel compelled to go back.

But I do think someday I may take up climbing again. I still do a lot of running and skiing and mountaineering, which is similar in a lot of ways and gives me an outlet. And I've had a few thoughts about climbing, but have not yet been compelled to try again.

My advice to you is this: think about how you would feel to quit? Would it be a relief? If the answer is yes, then give yourself permission to take a break. Maybe you take a month off, or three months, or six months, or a year, but allow yourself to take some time away. If you miss it - great! - climbing isn't going anywhere. If you don't - that's good too. You can find your other passions. Let go of the guilt. Do what makes you happy.

Facundo Suárez said...

Thanks for your advice Kristina. The question of "would it be a relief?" battles inside me with "do I feel dead inside?" and I think it's a bit of both. I think I won't just quit today, but I will fade out gracefully. And as you said, it will still be there should I want to take it up again. We'll always have Paris... Uhh I mean, climbing. Thanks again.

Kyle Twohig said...

Nice writeup. I've been through my own version with volleyball. Literally met my wife and is a key connection with my very involved family and has been a 30 year life commitment. I'm still helping out the community with an event and from the board room, but as a participant I have retired. The distance that naturally comes from that tight nit community leaves a void.

I'm happy to say though that the closest friends are still there. I've met a new community in biking an bc skiing (like you!) that have brought new laughs, learning, adventures, and there are great people everywhere with passions ready to share.

It's also amazing what adventures fill that void. The restless adventurers cannot sit home on the weekend mowing grass and staining the deck for long, there are always new places to explore, just in a different way.