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  • Writer's pictureIlana Newman

On Squamish and the journey to get there

A year ago I led my first successful pitch of rock climbing ever. I say successful because there was that one time last winter when in 20 degree weather I struggled up my first climb ever on real rock, got to the fourth bolt and fell, hitting the wall 25 feet below me, spraining my ankle and coming about a centimeter from shattering my kneecap. We had hastily jumped on the first climb we saw after being unable to decipher the guidebook, and unable to feel my fingers, I had headed up. I brought my insulated gloves up with me and stopped at every bolt to warm my hands. Looking back over the guidebook later, it appeared I had attempted to onsight a 5.10c for my first ever lead. I drove the three and a half hour drive home the next morning using cruise control because I could hardly flex my right ankle to press on the gas.

But last spring break was a different story. We were back at Smith Rock, the site of my eventful first encounter with bolts and draws, and I was pretty terrified. For the past three months I had been craving rock, physical desire shooting from my stomach to my fingertips. Even as I hobbled up and down the stairs to my dorm on crutches I needed to get back out, out in the air attached to the wall by only my fingertips and the rubber on my toes. There was something about climbing that felt as though there was some force pulling at me, dragging me into its grasp, and up a steep wall of rock. At that point in time I had no idea what I was doing, all I knew was that I wanted to be doing more. That second trip to Smith I led a couple of 5.7s and maybe a 5.8. I remember clutching the wall with all my might, my head telling me to go down, my heart telling me to go up, and my fingertips holding on way too tight for my own muscles’ good. I yelled take at every bolt. But I did it. And that was the first time I took my anxiety, my self doubt, and my fear into my own hands, stared at them straight on, and punched them in the face.

Since then, all I’ve felt is that craving for rock, and no real way to satisfy it. I still had very little idea of what I was doing, and didn’t have anyone in my life at that point in time to really help me out. None of my close friends climbed, and the people I climbed with at the gym were just that, acquaintances who would project with me, most of whom probably had as little experience on real rock as I did.

This trip to Squamish was more than just a chance to get outside, a chance to get my fingers back in cracks, a chance to perhaps finally experience the thrill of leading trad, this trip was proof to myself that I am a climber. After a year of knowing where I needed to be, and having no clue about how to get there, I finally feel as though this identity has embraced me. Just by being invited on this trip, by a bunch of guys who I consider good friends of mine at this point, makes me feel as though a lot has changed over the past year. I have quickly realized that if I want to be climbing hard, outside, pushing myself, it is going to be more often than not around all guys. It’s not as though I don’t know any girls who climb, but if I was waiting for a group of all girls who were as psyched about climbing outside as I am, I would never get anywhere, and for a long time I didn’t. It wasn’t until I accepted that I would have to step outside of my social comfort zone, meet new people and maybe be without the people who make me feel safe and secure, that I would really be able to push my own boundaries with my climbing.

The trip in itself was a blast. We left Bellingham at about 8:30 friday night, and drove north under clear skies. Arriving in Squamish about two hours later, the Chief was standing strong against a deep blanket of black flecked with brilliant stars. The second largest granite monolith in the world was calling to us, and we answered with cries of delight and some lukewarm beer. We crawled into our sleeping bags, determined to get an early start the next morning.

Waking up the next morning was bitterly cold, and we grudgingly left our sleeping bags to see Squamish in morning light. This was my first real glimpse of the place, and gazing up at that face, all that granite just waiting to be climbed, I was filled with with that aching need to climb. With Garibaldi sitting proudly in the distance, we ate our oatmeal sitting on crashpads between the two cars, trying hard to warm up. I couldn’t feel my toes for the majority of the morning.

After warming up on some boulders in the woods, Matt, Nikara, and Storrie arrived and we headed out to the Smoke Bluffs to get on some gear. After having my first experience following trad climbing a few weeks earlier in Index, I was determined to lead today, and after a few top rope follows, I finally got my chance. Heading up my first lead, an incredibly short 5.6 pitch, I honestly felt no anxiety. I was so used to feeling that fear, that insecurity, that I felt quite strange placing piece after piece with no worries. Probably because it was easy climbing, practically just easy scrambling for practice placing gear, and I knew there was no chance that I would fall. Immediately after that I headed up a 5.8, which turned out to be a pretty dirty mess of a pitch with not great protection, but I made it to the top, once again having no more fear that I would have leading a 5.8 sport.

That night, after giant burritos and beer, we camped under a huge overhanging boulder, sitting around a fire while light snow fell around us. We were just some people in the woods, with some music and some beer, and I was happy. We left the next afternoon after some more bouldering, which to be honest is not my favorite type of climbing. I am constantly afraid that I am going to land wrong, of course I did, tweaking my ankle a bit. Outdoor bouldering is often just big move after big move, and I am not a fan of dynos. But it is always fun to just be in the woods, hangin with friends, working on a problem, and it was a good way to end a great trip up north.

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