Paige Claassen - Outdoors!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Beyond the Gym 

By: Paige Classen


Gazing up from the base of this playground, a beautiful, blue streaked, French slab of limestone, I wonder how I could ever have hated the feel of natural rock on my hands. I look back to the years I began climbing and see the gangly gym rat who spent hours training in the gym with her Dad, never to see her effort pay off on the cliff. I lived for competitions, breathing dusty air in a stagnant room with not a breeze or ray of sunlight to be found. Yet here I sit atop a mount of rolling green hills sprinkled with chateaus and bleating sheep and wonder what that little girl could have possibly been thinking.

I began climbing with my Dad when I was 10 in a small gym in the Colorado Mountains. Top roping the blue route provided me with complete satisfaction. Safe from sharp granite, long hikes and smashed sandwiches, I enjoyed my frequent gym sessions as I prepared for junior competitions. If I felt truly adventurous, the big gym in Denver provided walls four times higher than my home court.

Beyond the confined walls of plastic and plywood, my feet preferred to remain rooted to the soil. I hated outdoor rock climbing. The tragedy of the story lies not in the tale that I never climbed outside, but in the fact that I didn’t enjoy my outdoor trips. I trekked around the local Estes Park areas, deemed “world class” by the professionals, but never found myself itching to return to the bolted granite cliffs.

When I had nearly given up on a life of natural stone, Rifle knocked me out of my slump. Known to some as a sandbagged pile of choss, Rifle opened my eyes to an entirely new style of climbing. Instead of short day trips, I could spend entire weekends camping under the cliff. Steep blocks of limestone suited my gym style, as did the short distance between bolts. I saw the same climbers return to the canyon every weekend, forming a community of beta sprayers, eager to bestow their knowledge on the newbie. Rifle represented the beginning of my passion for true rock climbing.

I discovered my own movement, not the style of a route setter. Climbing outside gave me the freedom to create my own path and personal motivations. The endless options to crimp, pinch, and dyno left me dreading my return to the climbing gym. Finally, I could call the open air my home.

Ceuse, France presented me with the vices of everything I loved about Rifle: A long steep hike, vertical routes with relentless pockets, and run out jaunts between bolts. Yet now I realize the comforts of Rifle never represented what I loved about rock climbing but were simply details allowing me to slip out of my dreary routine. As I made the transition to outdoor rock climbing, I learned that this sport goes far beyond competitions or even sending hard lines.

Whether I’m climbing in Europe or at the local crag at home, I can count on the same loyal community to clip the draw beside me. The frustrations and disappointments all disappear as the sun descends on the hike down the cliff and I know that the next day, I get to repeat this grand life all over again. Besides, I no longer have to claim the old blue route as my hardest ascent.

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