Come Alone, Summit Together

When Blaken signed up for the Rock Climbing and Yoga Retreat with She Moves Mountains she had never rock climbed before, inside or outside. A transplant from Pennsylvania, Blaken was used to taking big leaps by herself. But as she drove the windy roads up from Redding, CA, Mt. Shasta's chakral glow looming as a protector on her five hour journey, she couldn't help but feel an overwhelming anxiety about what she had gotten herself into.

Originally she had talked another friend into doing it with her, but when her friend bailed, Blaken decided to attend the Yoga and Rock Climbing retreat alone.

"I spent the whole drive trying to talk myself into turning around", Blaken confessed. Instead of going directly to meet all the other ladies at the local Bunk and Brew hostel, where the event was just beginning, Blaken tried to beat her nerves out hiking to the summit of Pilot Butte. She worried that she wouldn't be good enough: that everyone else would have more experience and be stronger than her.

blaken3.jpg

"What if no one else was a beginner like me?" she wondered. As she stood at the top of Pilot Butte overlooking a horizon decorated by a cascade of volcanoes, she asked the mountains to still her heart.



She showed up an hour late to a room full of women laughing and snacking. It was obvious that some women had more experience than her, throwing around words like "trad".  "I didn't expect a group to stoop down to my level, but then I realized that they were terrified and inexperienced too". The women spent the weekend getting to know each other, supporting each other through fear, building a kind of community that is, as Blaken describes, "More of a movement and a family" than a click.

Shortly after the retreat, Blaken took a fall while bouldering, breaking one ankle and tearing a ligament in the other.  She spent three "soul crushing" months in a wheelchair. "It really rocked my spirit," she admitted, "I learned so much about patience and compassion. I was able to stay positive knowing that I had a community that was eager to see me recover".

Five months later, Blaken accepted an invitation from her new community to hike and climb  Indian Creek, a world class crack climbing destination just outside Moab, Utah. "I walked up as someone who had hardly any experience with two, recently healed broken ankles and literally made friends with everyone at the creek", Blaken said. But the trauma of her accident outlasted her physical recovery, and she arrived to the creek with a new fear to overcome: her fear of heights.

Blaken2.jpg

She arrived to the creek with a new fear to overcome: her fear of heights.

The group decided to climb South Six Shooter, a three pitch sandstone tower, chiseled with splitter cracks and blocks perfect for new climbers. Graded at 5.7, the route jostles up at a jovial pace to the top of a large block spire and overlooks the wind cut, high desert of Southeast Utah. They would set off in four teams of two, with She Moves Mountains instructors leading past clients (now friends) up the route. Ten feet below the lip of the summit Blaken sags in her harness, perplexed by the sequence of the next few moves. The rest of her party at the top encouraging her to try to "mantel" over the crux.

But Blaken has no idea what a "mantel" is. As she hangs over a 200ft cliff, she is overwhelmed with the exposure and her situation. She is stuck with no idea what to do with her body because it's a move she has never seen done, let alone done herself. With some patient instruction from above, she makes a few eager attempts, each time swinging back into the loft of the rope in frustration.

Frustration leads to anxiety, and anxiety leads to fear, and all of the emotions well up into wet eyes. And with the tears comes the more terrifying fear of falling, and the cycle of emotions repeats itself. Up on top, her belay partner calls to her, “would you like a boost?”. Of course, it is not always easy to accept help when we are struggling. But Blaken decided this was not just a moment for her personal triumph, it was a collective celebration in working together - one she was proud to be a part of.

The girls counted out in unison above, "3,2,1!", and she was hoisted up onto the summit!

"It was a real girl power moment!”, Blaken declares, “The girls brought me through this struggle". She plopped over the lip of the tower to join the music, dance, and smiles. "I've had a lot of great summit moments, but this is definitely top five".

Blaken now makes regular trips to see her growing female climbing community. She is looking forward to another weekend clinic this summer in Bend, OR where she hopes to welcome women new to climbing. "Thinking back on it,'' she says, "I am really glad I came to my first clinic alone. If my friend had come with me I don't think I would have branched out to build the relationships I have over the last year".

Blaken.jpg

Learning to Compromise on the Beckey-Chouindard

ORG_DSC00341.JPG

I first visited the Bugaboos in 2017 with two friends from Leavenworth.  I was immediately captured by the vast glaciers snaking their way through dramatic granite spires. That first trip, my partner and I knocked out many classic moderates; Kain Route, West Ridge of Pigeon Spire, McTech Arete and the NE Ridge of Bugaboo Spire. We came, we saw, we climbed and I left with a longer tick list than when I arrived.  With endless climbing possibilities and relatively easy access, I knew the BC Provincial park would be on my short list for return visits in the future.  

I hadn’t given much thought to what I wanted to climb during my next visit.  I mentally set aside a two week period to return in Summer 2018.  So in spring, when Lizzy asked if I wanted to climb the Beckey-Chouinard with her, I immediately agreed. I was beyond stoked to head into the mountains with another woman.  

I was first introduced to climbing as a teenager, with two boys I went to school with and their father, who was their Boy Scout leader.  In college I worked at the University gym, where my manager Matt taught me about leading and outdoor skills. The vast majority of my foundational multi-pitch and alpine skills came from my boyfriend of 4 years, who was a skilled guide and mountaineer.  As I developed as a climber I eventually formed a solid group of strong women to climb with but my big objectives in the mountains have always been with male partners.  This trip to the Bugaboos with Lizzy would be the first time attempting a big climb with a female partner.

IMG_6815.JPG

The Beckey-Chouinard is a 2,000’ granite route with fifteen pitches of climbing in the 5.7 to 5.10+ range on South Howser Tower. Many of the popular routes in the Bugaboos are in the main cirque, less than an hour approach from the climbers camp. In the peak summer months, these approaches require minimal glacier travel, if any. The BC, however, is on South Howser Tower, nestled deeper into the range across the Vowell Glacier. This would be the most audacious climb either of us had attempted. 

In an ideal situation, we would have hiked in, set up base camp, and climbed a few shorter routes to get comfortable with each other.  Given that we had limited time and less than desirable weather in the forecast, we decided that the Beckey-Chouinard would be our priority and first objective.

On the drive up to Canada I began to notice a few differences between how Lizzy and I approached alpine climbing. Before our trip, I scoured the internet for beta (information about the climb).  I had written notes about the route, printed out topos (maps that indicate the climbing route, difficulty, pitch breakdown, etc) and read trip reports. I had a good handle on where we needed to go, how to get there and the type of terrain we would be encountering along the way. While I am, perhaps, an excessive planner, Lizzy had a more whimsical approach to preparedness.  She had her gear, her stoke, and plenty of trust that I knew where we were going.  (And her Garmin, InReach, which gave us some much needed peace of mind.)

ORG_DSC00250.JPG

We left the car at a leisurely pace with insanely heavy packs and a lot of stoke. After gaining nearly 5,000 ft in elevation over a few miles we arrived at the historic Kain Hut sweaty and hungry. We checked out some maps and decided to take the less direct approach to the Pigeon-Howser Col to avoid midday rockfall hazards that plagued the typical route. In order to give ourselves as much climbing time as possible we chose to take light packs with minimal food and only the necessities to bivouack the night before and potentially after our climb. We stashed our remaining gear and food in bear boxes and spent the next few hours navigating large crevasses and snow bridges on the Bugaboo glacier. 

Lizzy nervously expressed that she was not confident with snow and ice travel.  Although I am fairly comfortable in glacial environments, I barely have the skills to take care of myself, much less someone else.  So we quested on to the glacier and outside of our comfort zones.  Since the crevasses were mostly melted out along our route, we decided not to rope up when it got steep because we didn't have protection for snow and ice, and we would be more of a liability to each other than just to ourselves.  There was one particularly steep, blue, narrow passage in between an echelon cracks where a fall would be bad news.  Our cheerful chatter quieted as we took in the seriousness of the moment.  I front pointed up the ribbon of blue, white knuckling my axe and reminding myself to breathe. As the grade started to subside, we hit a patch of rotten ice that crumbled under the points of my crampons.  I inhaled sharply and froze, too scared to take the few steps required to reach safety. Lizzy followed too close behind and I tried not to think about falling right into her and knocking us into the dark mouth below. Approximately nine small aluminum points kept me anchored to the ice and I didn't want to move a single one of them.  

“You got it, Katie.”

IMG_6868.JPG

Lizzy’s voice wavered and I could tell she was as gripped as I was.  I took a breath and committed to the last few feet, giggling with nerves once we both reached the flats above and collectively unpuckered.  Within 30 minutes we had arrived at our bivy spot.  Lizzy settled in to collect water and make dinner, while I soloed to the top of Pigeon Spire for sunset.  

Our night was plagued with restless sleep, mostly caused by a brazen pack rat that repeatedly tried to grab the hat right off my head as I dozed.  The alarm rang just before 4am and we were hiking within 30 minutes by the light of one headlamp- the curse of rechargeables!  By dawn, we were at the toe of the stunning Southwest Ridge of South Howser Tower, also known as the mega classic Beckey-Chouinard.  The first couple hundred feet of climbing was easy scrambling, though sometimes wet or snow covered.  We moved quickly to stay ahead of a party of good spirited German men.  As we approached the more defined ridge, where the climbing steepened enough to warrant a rope, we began to notice many other parties ahead of us on route.  

ORG_DSC00313.JPG

As we stopped to rope up Lizzy and I started to discuss logistics for simul-climbing the next couple of pitches. We disagreed on some things, and had a brief, but intense, debate.  One of the things that I really appreciate about a climbing partner, and I appreciate about Lizzy as a friend and coworker, is the ability to communicate.  The two of us have plenty of things we like to do differently on an alpine climb, and strong opinions about them but we were able to compromise our preferences and peculiarities in a way that was safe and effective; forcing me to let go of some stubbornness and allow her to do certain things her way, even if it wasn’t the way I personally preferred.  

We simul climbed a handful of pitches 5.8 and below until we arrived at the first crux pitch and, not coincidentally, the first traffic jam.  There was a party of two men ahead of us that looked mildly familiar, they were from Portland, Oregon, and one of them enthusiastically informed us that his girlfriend had taken one of our courses!  We sat at the ledge for about 30 minutes, chatting with the Oregonians and the pair of Germans.  When it was my turn, I took the lead, following a finger crack through a short bulge and an awkward wide section.  Grades feel different in the alpine, when you’re at altitude and wearing a medium sized backpack; but the 5.10 climbing went smoothly and soon we were swinging leads through the next block of moderate pitches.  

IMG_6828.JPG

We arrived at base of the Great White Headwall before noon.  We were over half way and making good time.  This was also the next 5.10 pitch, and between the generous ledge and more difficult climbing, everyone’s progress slowed and we spent a good two hours waiting for our turn to proceed.  It was sunny but cool, and the company of the other groups was surprisingly pleasant for a busy day on route.  After Lizzy cruised the long pitch, I followed with the next leader close behind me.  About 15 feet off a ledge, I fell unexpectedly, nearly decking and hitting the climber below. I was a bit shook up by the size of the fall despite being on toprope.  When I arrived at the belay, I knew it would be my turn to lead.  We had decided to take a variation so as to spread out the traffic and keep ourselves moving, but I hadn’t asked anyone about the grade of the alternate route.  I tried to shake off the fear that had settled in my chest, and began up the pitch.  I climbed conservatively, I was still scared and it soon became clear that I would run out of gear (it was nearly 60m long) and the climbing was hard enough that I didn’t feel comfortable running it out.  I built an anchor on some less than ideal small cams in order to clean the gear below and allow Lizzy to continue the pitch with a full rack.  

By now, most of the friends we’d made on route had passed us by and our progress was unimpeded, but the weight of the day had sunk in and we were feeling fatigued.  This was the point where Lizzy’s positive energy and drive was so valuable to our success.  She agreed to take the last difficult pitch, which many people aid through, and dispatched it with few qualms.  Just when I thought I couldn’t climb any more, we had reached the top 300 or so feet of scrambling and the summit was in sight!  Given the number of people on route, we hadn’t had a moment of privacy to relieve ourselves all day, so when we reached the generous ledges, the first order of business was… well, you get the idea. 

ORG_DSC00321.JPG

The sun was getting concerningly low in the sky as we reached the summit.  Overwhelmed by the day, and where we stood, Lizzy and I hugged, had a quick snack and snapped some photos.  We felt the sense of urgency to get down before we lost daylight.  Fortunately, the descent is a fully bolted rappel route, quite unusual for the alpine; unfortunately, it was still notorious for being a little bit hard to follow in places.  I hit my typical second wind after the midday slump and Lizzy admitted that rappelling was her least favorite part of climbing, so I took the lead in getting us safely back to the glacier.  The first few rappels were down a knife edge ridge, awkward to say the least, and if you went off one of the sides, you would not find the next anchor.  I carefully navigated us to the first big ledge on the descent route.  After Lizzy joined me on the ledge, we pulled the ropes and the knot connecting them snagged on a flake.  We were perturbed, but knew there were still two parties behind us that could unsnag the knot. 

IMG_6847.JPG

Getting your ropes stuck on a long rappel route can be the difference between a casual descent and a total epic, especially when the rappels are not along the same route of ascent. We didn’t need to climb back up to remedy the situation, so we waited until the faint voices of two Canadian route mates began to trickle down from the wall above.  They freed our knot, and we were soon scrambling down to the next series of rappels.  

The air was smokey from regional fires and the pink glow of sunset was stunning through the haze.  We started to lose visibility and I overshot the next set of anchors that were around a corner and out of view.  As I reached the knots of our twin 60m ropes, I found myself at a fresh bundle of slings and cord slung over a dubious flake.  Clearly we weren’t the first folks to end up in the wrong place here.  Lizzy carefully slid down to me and anchored to the tat, looking nervous. 

 “I’ve never had to rappel in the dark before.”  

Now it was my turn to be strong and confident for the both of us, just as Lizzy had for me earlier.  I’ve done a few dusky descents in my life, but this one felt more serious.  We didn’t know if our ropes would reach the safety of the glacier, plus this was clearly an active rockfall zone, and I wanted to spend minimal time there.  The black mouth of the bergschrund gaped below us and we needed to rappel past it to get down safely.   As we pulled the ropes, the tail wrapped itself around a flake and got stuck… again; and once again we were saved from having to attempt any dangerous maneuvers or cut rope because of our kind friends above.  We heard them start to rap, and called up for assistance.

“Oh ropes stuck again, eh?”

Soon I was rigged up and carefully walking backwards down the crumbling face.  As I tried to manage the ropes they tangled on everything, and several loose blocks plummeted to the glacier below.  I looked up and saw the two parties behind us struggling to find the anchor we had missed by headlamp.  Their ropes were shorter than ours and we warned that they would not be long enough to reach our anchor.  

The crunch of snow under my boots was a welcome relief, but I still had to cross the seemingly bottomless crevasse before Lizzy could follow me down.  We had opted to leave our axes and crampons behind in favor of lighter packs on route, so once over the bergschrund I carefully kicked steps and handholds down to a flat spot where I could go “off rappel.”  Lizzy had been huddled alone at the anchor this whole time, not saying a word.  I felt for her.  There are these moments in the mountains where you feel so small, and suddenly you realize how many things could go wrong and how far you are from help.  I kept the rope ends firmly in my hands as she began to descend, in order to keep them from pulling loose rock down on me.  Once safely on the ground, we wrapped each other in a relieved hug and discussed if we should stick around to make sure the other two parties made it down; they were still fumbling with building an anchor in the dark, after giving up on finding the bolted rappel station.  As it was nearing 11 pm, we decided that there wasn’t much we could do from our position, and they seemed to be figuring it out amongst themselves.  

We kept an eye on their headlamps as we began the hike back to our stashed gear.  The Germans who had passed us earlier were bivied in the same place, so we followed their boot prints through the dark to our sleeping bags and a hot meal.  Back on solid ground, I forced us to eat dinner, even though we could have happily gone to bed without it.  Right before dozing off, we counted four headlamps on the glacier, headed back toward Applebee.  Happy that our companions were safely off the rappels, we fell into the deepest of sleeps.  There is nothing more rewarding than the sleep you sleep after a huge day in the alpine.  The flaked out rope underneath me transformed into a cozy memory foam mattress, my sweaty clothes could have been silk pajamas, and the pack rat could have taken my hat and shaved my head while he was at it, and I wouldn’t have budged.  Neither of us stirred until 8:30 the next morning, when a party of climbers hiked right over us.  Lizzy awoke with a huge smile and a giggle, despite our lack of coffee, and we laid in the sun all morning reliving our biggest day in the alpine to date.  

ORG_DSC00387.JPG

Katies Climbing Kit

ORG_DSC00410.JPG
ORG_DSC00489.JPG

Climb with katie: book a private day or Join a clinic

Whether you’re a beginner, looking to experience outdoor climbing for the first time, someone looking to hone specific skills with the support of a guide, or a visiting climber in need of a stoked and attentive belayer, Katie will cultivate the day out to fit your needs.  Her specialties include crack technique, traditional climbing and introduction to outdoor for new climbers.

Each day of private guiding comes with exciting scientific conversation regarding the local geology... free of charge!  Katie is also a certified yoga instructor, ask her about including climbing specific yoga to our guiding day.

katie’s Upcoming Clinics

Anxious, introverted, shy - How Climbing Allowed Me to Break Through and Find My Truest Self

Photo Jan 01, 4 05 17 AM.jpg

Anxiety - Intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.

Introvert - Prefers time alone in order to recharge their inner being. Interacting with people and attention to multiple sources of stimuli tends to draw down an introverts energy causing them to eventually withdraw to spend time alone to re- energize

Shy - Being reserved or having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company in the company of other people.

All of the above describe me, Christina. I am also a 39 year old single mother, avid hiker, climber and aspiring mountaineer.

Spring of 2016, I started hiking in hopes that it would help with my anxiety and quickly fell in love with being outside. I had only one friend who would hike with me but as her other priorities took precedence she was unable to escape into the mountains. I was at a loss, so I began using social media as a way to make new hiking friends. Some worked out and some didn't - honestly, it kind of felt like online dating.

February 2017, I learned how to rock climb at a gym with one of my guy friends. It was apparent early on that men and women climb differently. I wanted to climb higher grades but I couldn’t just muscle through like most of my guy friends. I needed to find other women to climb with, to learn from, but I had no idea how to make friends as an adult? Especially, when I suffer from anxiety, shyness and I’m an introvert? The anxiety of making new friends was so overwhelming that I didn’t, I just continued to learn from my guy friends.  

One day they took me to climb outside and I fell in love immediately! In that instant I knew I needed to buy my own gear and find some ladies who loved to climb. But still, that question came about in my head again, how do I make friends?

2018 I set high goals for myself. I was going to make new friends in the outdoor community, I was going to start mountaineering, and I was going to learn how to be a strong rock climber. I had this fire burning inside me and it burned brighter and stronger than what was actually happening in my everyday life - family, friends, work, single mom balance. One day I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw an event for She Moves Mountains’ Rock Climbing and Yoga Retreat. I was on board immediately.  Heck, I've been practicing yoga for 6 years and I fell in love with rock climbing, this clinic had my name written all over it! I asked all of my friends if they would want to join me, but received the "yeah, but it’s too expensive" or "I'm interested" but no follow through. So I said to myself, don't wait for others, this is your dream and your goals... GO AFTER IT. I signed up. Not only for the retreat, but for the Peaks of Life Mt. Rainer all women’s climb, and for the Alpine Ascents all women's 6 day mountaineering course. Go big or Go home right?! I was going to crush goals and make friends.

June 1st 2018, I started my drive to Smith Rock for the She Moves Mountains Rock Climbing and Yoga Retreat. It was my first road trip by myself. I arrived late to the opening campfire where there was an overwhelming number of women. Much to my relief, everyone came on their own. We sat around and introduced ourselves, sharing our occupation, why we signed up for the retreat and what we are hoping to get out of the weekend. Lizzy started us off, sharing about adventures and struggles with depression, rock climbing and its therapeutic nature. So many women with great careers, ER doctors, Nurses, Physician Assistants,  Veterinarians, and more. I started to feel anxious. How could I, Christina, Dental assistant of 17 years have anything in common with all of these wonderful, smart women. I didn’t feel good enough. We all went to bed, and I slept OK. I woke up feeling extremely emotional and I decided to call the guy I was dating after everyone in my room left and cried on the phone. I finally got myself together and went downstairs to have some coffee. I ran into a grumpy morning Lizzy and I learned that I wasn't the only one who needed coffee before interactions with other humans. That small moment helped calm me. We drove to Smith Rock and broke into our groups, I was still the quiet one. I was nervous that the women would get "clickish", leaving me out. The scars of high school bullying causing even more anxiety.

Once we got on the rock my anxiety began to dissipate. We all became equal, we all became each others cheerleaders, most importantly, we all were supporting one another. I quickly fell in love with the climbing at Smith Rock. This place stole my heart on day one. After climbing we all met up for some evening yoga in the grass.

Dinner was fun, we ate, we drank, and we all told stories about our day. I once again became emotional talking about my first day. Geez, I'm such a cry baby!

Finally slept well and the morning was even better, NO CRYING! Second day of climbing was phenomenal.

I met so many wonderful women that weekend. I was inspired by my guides Lizzy and Katie to create a rock climbing group in Washington, so women like me, anxious, shy and introverted, could find climbing partners and make new friendships (belaytionships).

After that retreat I began climbing outside regularly, planning meet ups for women, and pushing my climbing. I came back in the fall to She Moves Mountains’ end of season event with the goal of leading a 10a! My guide Sarah chose the climb and my group cheered me on. I cried at the crux (always crying), in disbelief that I actually made the 5.10 move. I made it to the anchors and asked to be lowered. This time crying because of pure joy.

I've met some of the greatest humans through all of these experience. And I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

If you want to follow along with Christina’s adventures you can find her on Instagram at @christinawalker24

Photo Sep 29, 5 17 37 PM.jpg

Wild and Weightless

In September, 2017 She Moves Mountains ran a clinic with an organization called Wild & Weightless with a focus on body image combined with rock climbing at Smith Rock. Sarah, an inspiring and motivated climber of Bend, received a scholarship from She Moves Mountains and Mountain Supply to join for the clinic. She has shared this written piece below about her experience that day with us.

 

"I can't do it!" she cries.

Who is she talking to? To us? To herself? To the hollow space between distant huecos? Another check on my belay device: locked.

"I'm with ya!" I yell, trying to send my focused breath through the taught rope extending from my belay device. Her legs quake and she sends a shiver back down to me. I steady it in my hands. I'm holding her fear, her doubt, her life’s worth of hesitation.

"Breathe," a grounding voice exhales into the October air, and the wall absorbs all echo.

***

An hour previous, fifteen ladies, mostly strangers, approach the dusty crag and circle between sage and juniper. The agenda is to climb some tacky Smith Rock tuff with the guided assistance from She Moves Mountains. Finally! A day at the crag with just the girls! I am especially excited for the day because the organization Wild and Weightless is co-hosting, and there will undoubtedly be some juicy discussion on body image and how the outdoors can be a healing space, particularly from our perspective as women.

I sit on the dry earth with my elbows propped against my bent knees. I find comfort in the warmth of my down jacket and how it conceals the rolls of belly fat that come together underneath it all. I don't like this part of my body: don't like it to be seen, or touched, or thought about. As our guides set up top ropes we share around the circle. I express these painful insecurities. When it all comes cascading out, I have nothing else to say... the silence that lingers behind it is painfully raw.

"Me too," she says. Relief. I am not alone.

Too big, too small, too tall, too much! Our insecurities pour out like ankle deep scree down the mountainside. The collective heart opens so wide that each woman has more to share about their bodies than we have time to explore. I take a moment to look around at all of these ladies: vulnerable—but confident, brave, and humble. Are these not the qualities that we should take with us on the wall every time we climb?

Feeling powerfully exposed, I slip into my harness. A high wind moves the clouds around until the sun burns through and I confidently remove my puffy. I tie my eight, follow through, and go over the safety checks that our guides have just demonstrated for us. Ready to rock climb! Almost.

I close my eyes. When I step onto the wall I am choosing to expose myself to the unpredictable and undiscriminating playground that Mother Nature provides. Taking a deep inhale, I remind myself of the risk I am subjecting myself to both physically and emotionally. A flush of fear pumps hot blood into my fingertips. I may fall, or worse, be too scared to fall. Everyone will be watching me struggle. I'm afraid my weakness will be a circus show of desperation.

While fear is a powerful presence, I break a smile, remembering that love has brought me here. A crest of gratitude overwhelms all my doubts, and with a style refined by grace and patience, I climb.

I climb like I am weightless: like a vine to the sunshine. My movements are motivated by curiosity to explore the obstacles of the rock specific to my own body. There are no comparisons of body size or appearance, just opportunity to create a unique bond between myself and the wall. That bond grows as the ground gets further away. When I look down at the hollowing space between myself and the ladies below I find myself as naked as ever. It's a shameless kind of naked.

Sweat leaking through the chalk on my fingertips, I become aware of what real physical insecurity feels like. All of my weight is intricately balancing on the tips of my toes and fingers. Any slip of the foot or lack of judgment could eject me off this rock. Or the rock itself could pop off. My mind's eye skips to a scene where my foothold tears off its conglomerate to rage into the uncertain arms of gravity alongside all the weight of my blood, muscle, skin, and bone.

I snap back to reality. My anxiety shifts from how my body looks to how it can provide me the strength I need to move up this wall.

A high foot would do here, I think to myself - I may have even said it out loud. At 5'2'' I am always looking for the convenience of small crimps and high feet. But I see nothing. I begin a desperate exploration of previously chalked holds. Squeezing a sharp, thin pinch in my left hand, I paw for relief on my right. My elbows chicken wing, I'm losing my grip. Searching helplessly for a way out, I'm losing control.

I look down at my last bolt—it’s a safe fall but still not a comfortable one. I start weighing my options, of which there are only two: I can fall, or I can take an insecure stab at the jug rail just out of reach. One thing I can't do is stay here, paralyzed by fear, taken by the terror of my own making. I want so badly to have control over my body and every move I make on the wall, but climbing is far more cryptic than that.

I am going to have to trust - that no matter what I look like I will be loved, that if I gain ten pounds I will still be invited and respected. I can only have so much control over my appearance, my diet, what my friends think about me, who I will fall in love with. The magic is in the mystery. I am going to have to go for it and trust the hold is good.

"C'mon!" she calls out, and I punch through the pollution of panic inside me, driving up and out toward the unknown.                                                                                        

This is the moment when a woman comes out of her comfort zone: out of her house, out of her family, out of her mascara, her jewelry, her impossible spanx... There is no confinement for the wild and nasty woman who gives herself openly to the wonder of the mountain. The wall becomes the public sphere for the naked shape to form movement through curious and intimate adventure: the kind of adventure that reestablishes our bodies as a part of the whole, not one that is peeled away to be refined, disguised, and judged. 

"Hell yeah, Sarah!" I hear them celebrating, "Stuck it, girl!"

"Yeeeeehaw!" I explode with laughter and liberation and assess the situation. At this point I'm well above my last bolt—a scary distance, actually. But all the fear has rinsed out of me and I climb the rest of the route liberated from anxiety. I reach the anchors bursting with love. Relaxing into the secure seat of my harness, I know that I am so much more - so much more than a little sister, somebody's ex girlfriend, or a number on the scale. These are the moments that make everything worthwhile. I have power and purpose and they can be realized through all my doubt and insecurities.

***

As I hold the belay for a woman I only met this morning, I feel as though I have known her my whole life. She is my sister, my mother, my teacher, my child. I know the greener pastures she dreams of and the walls she's built in front of them.

"I can't do it!" she calls out again. I sense she is giving up but the ladies beside me won't have it. I watch as the steady flow of emotional support restores her power, "You can do this! Keep climbing!" they resound.

Resituating her feet ever so slightly, she's able to reach just a little bit higher, taking just a little more for herself on her journey to be the woman the universe wants her to become. The woman who she wants to become. From fear, through support, she finds the ability to trust the uncertain and move bravely upward and outward.

I am reminded that I am not alone in my fear. The wall I have built to protect the fear in me has only closed me off from opportunities of growth, and today I am tearing that wall down. I want to be vulnerable. I want to challenge fear, climb higher, and feel my body shiver for the thrill of life.

Watching the other ladies climb, I know they want this too. For themselves, but also for each other. There is a beautiful community of women ready to claim the outdoors and support one another along the way. She Moves Mountains is creating an incredible doorway for adventurous women to do just that.

***

Our community is a beautiful network to help guide and support us on our life adventures. I want to give a special thanks to Mountain Supply of Bend, OR for enabling me to attend this event and experience the power of the work that She Moves Mountains and Wild and Weightless have been building. Thank you.