It's been so long.

IMG_5745 So many things have happened since my last post. The last two years have been full of big changes, sudden turns, and unexpected challenges. Even when I've had time for storytelling, I haven't had much energy.

Overall, life has stayed beautiful. I've conquered fears, made mistakes, tested my spirit, and proved myself wrong. I've learned about failure and myself.

At many times and in many places, climbing has kept me above the waters of confusion and self-doubt. It's hard to explain my relationship with this sport, the essential balance that exists between the rock, my body, and my mind. I'm so grateful for climbing, for words, for friendship, and for fear.

I want to keep sharing my life here. I've wondered for months how I would execute my return. I never finished profiling Ecua-crags, and I didn't meet all of my training goals. I've been to so many new places. Where could I start?

I'll start here, with an excerpt from my first contribution to the Steep South website:

I left Ecuador to work for The Climbing Academy, a traveling high school for rock climbers. We began the semester in Bishop. Eighty-three miles closer to home but on the opposite coast, I felt farther than ever from my roots.

The Happies and Sads offered a final humbling taste of volcanic bouldering between school days in our rental house. After a month in snowy California, we headed to Mexico.

In Potrero Chico, I climbed on limestone for the first time. After a few sketchy falls on crumbling choss, I found myself rebuilding the sharp-end confidence I’d developed in Ecuador. “This is limestone?” I asked myself. The tacos were worth it, but only just.

Weeks later, though, the tufa wonderlands of El Salto enchanted me. In the otherworldly Tecalote cave, I decided to become a capital-S-C Sport Climber. In Nevada, I fell in love with Mount Charleston’s deep pockets and invisible feet. I discovered a style to which my body felt truly suited. Taking whips and trying hard, I finally trusted the rock and myself. (Read on for the rest.)

I won't make promises this time. All I'll say is this: I want to tell many more stories.

 

Crux Crafts: Hold me closer, tiny climber

I know you’re not supposed to hang out with strangers from the internet, but I guess we both crossed our fingers and it turned out great. The international climbing community is wonderful and continues to strengthen my belief that most people are awesome — especially climbers.

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Ecuador's Multi-Pitch Mecca: Clipping bolts in Cojitambo

Shattered boulders litter Coji's landscape. The town's traditional occupation is shaping tiles from the rock long-scattered across its hillsides. It’s a bittersweet sight for boulderers in a sport climbing mecca, but the area’s most important faces remain intact.

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Reasons, promises, and Cuyuja climbing

I knew no one in this country. I had never lived more than 15 minutes from my parents, and my knowledge of Ecuador was limited to a vague mental image of an alpaca in a poncho. I had never even been to South America. So I understand why my presence here seems pretty random to taxi drivers, coworkers, and even fellow gringos. Maybe it seems more random when I tell them that I moved here for the climbing.

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Rain and Ropes: A jungly affair at Santa Clara Alta

In the meantime, though, I have Santa Clara Alta. Its gray volcanic rock has little in common with that of the Canyon, with few roofs, thin cracks, and what I must describe as chunky slab. The approach, however, feels like I'm back in Alabama — if Alabaman forests were jungly Andean affairs, home to giant birds and (probably) baby dinosaurs.

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Second Impressions: La Perrera's volcanic wonderland

I believe the first phrase I used to describe the boulders at La Perrera was “Cotopaxi’s dried-up lava barf.” While these gray beauties are mementos of volcanic eruptions past, that description may not capture the magic of this place. In fact, after a weekend in the lush green playground of igneous rock and baby waterfalls, I still don’t think I’ve processed the wonder.

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Grit and Burl: Maybe it's time to take training seriously

So I just kept climbing, daydreaming, and attempting to absorb the powers of the greats through YouTube binges and Crux Crush interviews. I slowly progressed past the V5 mark and toward V6, strengthening my shoulders and bettering my head game by climbing a lot of routes in styles I enjoyed. When the lady climbers I most admired talked about their own training plans, I shrugged some more: Sure, they train, but I’m not on that level yet. Well, I think I really am. I don’t even think there is a level. Climbing with purpose and cross training are probably beneficial no matter how long you’ve been scurrying up walls.

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Ecua-Crag Introductions: Las Canteras, Sigsipamba, and La Perrera

The thing is, I haven’t been super motivated to climb recently. I sent my first two V6es the week before Peace Corps staging, and then I didn’t climb for two months. It sucks to feel how weak I’ve gotten so soon after that milestone, and I’ve had trouble dragging myself to the gym ‘cause I know how much bruising my ego will take once I get there.

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Watercolor Magic: The boulderfield beauty of Creative Crag

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I sure could use a few watercolor maps of my favorite Southeast crags, beautiful enough to hang on my wall but durable enough to survive the approach?” Well, now you have. Introducing: Creative Crag.

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Feelin' My Silly: Eat & Climb's first award

Bloggers like myself pass the Liebster Award around the Internet to help their Internet friends find new blogs to read. The lovely Misotravelsandclimbs nominated me and asked me 11 questions. Once I've answered them, I will nominate a few other blogs and make my own list of questions.

Here goes!

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Chickamauga Dreamin': Five Rocktown reveries

Dogs and babies flock to me. Their moms and dads have jerky and peanut butter, but they don’t even notice ‘cause we are busy playing What’s That Face and Where’s That Stick. I give a top roping cub scout beta, and he finishes his first 5.7. His joy is unparalleled.

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Look Ma, no rope!

I was a little worried about being crippled by the fear factor of climbing semi-high over the deep, deep sea. But once we got to the cala, it was just too awesome. But also weirdly not a big deal. Just climbing, you know?

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Fontaineblues

And here's the thing about bouldering in July. Yes, it's really hot, but it's also really green. All the plants are stretching their limbs and yawning greedily in the sun, and the moss is creeping up over the rocks. There are evil thorns coming at you everywhere, and it is just really hard to find stuff.

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Pulling on Parisian plastic

20150715_172700 I found a gym that has me missing Active from across the Atlantic.

Arkose is a bouldering gym in the graffitied backstreets of Paris’s Montreuil suburb. Sista Fran and I have been traveling for a few weeks and hadn’t been able to climb. So when we got to Paris, we were psyched to hit up some polyurethane.

We googled something like “Paris climbing gym” and found a bunch, including behemoth Hardbloc (“LA PLUS GRANDE SALLE DE BLOC EN FRANCE”) and Arkose, a tinier establishment. We decided to try Arkose based on the fact that it was 12 minutes closer to our hostel than Hardbloc. We got lost anyway, but I’m glad we chose it.

I’ve decided that Arkose is like Active’s cool teenage cousin who lives in the city and gets to drink wine at dinner parties. Or something. It’s another little warehouse-y gym where space is scarce but creativity is not. There’s some slabby stuff, some steeper stuff, and a big fake top-out boulder. There’s a sweet play area by the traverse wall, and there are communal chalk buckets just sitting around.

Also, this: there’s a bar inside. Like, 10 feet from the climbing. You can fall off your project, turn around, and order a drink. Ha! Is this a thing? Europe.*

Oh, and you can get food too. Fancy-sounding food like “croques” and “tartines.” Ooh la la.**

I really dug the atmosphere at this place. It was quiet and cozy with friendly staff and chill vibes.

I wasn’t familiar with the grading system — I think it was based on the Fontainebleau bouldering grades, with seven levels of difficulty from “child” to something like “really freakin’ hard” (in French, of course). This was kind of freeing because we didn’t have any V-goals hanging over our heads. We just climbed until we burned out, and it was a good day.

Some things I noticed about the Arkose crew, which may not constitute any consistent differences between the American and French climbing cultures but, rather, are freestanding observations drawn from a single personal experience:

1. Nobody was “powering through.” Seriously. I didn’t get on a single climb that required me to blast off into space with the strength of a thousand flying oxen. Everything was tech-y.

Now, I didn’t try any of the hardest problems, and there’s a chance some hidden dynos got past me. But it really seemed like everybody at this gym had to use their beta-smarts.

2. Everybody used the changing room. Except for us. We were in cute tourist clothes for the morning, but we changed into quick-dry leggings and neon sports bras before getting on the metro because that’s what you wear to the gym. Well apparently, just 'cause you wear it at the wall doesn't mean you wear it to the wall.

Turns out these posh city dwellers wear real clothes in transit and save the gym attire for the gym. Oops. I had wondered about the conspicuous lack of Parisian norts…

3. People spoke French. Duh. I was a little bummed that the language barrier kept us from bonding with the Frenchfolk, but a little beta exchange did occur, and I got a couple of “Allez, allez”s. But also…

4. It was really quiet. Which was nice. Everybody was super calm. But it was kind of strange being surrounded by men and not hearing a single grunt. The closest I got were my own little struggle-squeaks.

I suppose some beta spraying may have occurred — in hushed voices, with minimal hand movements — but it was probably in French. Because, again, duh.

tiny rock wall for SAP-4

After leaving the gym, we put our tourist clothes back on and embarked on a quest for the perfect Eiffel Tower pic. During our journey, we discovered a little fitness area by the Seine River, complete with tiny rock walls. So cute! We played.

tiny rock wall for SAP-2 photo cred, as per yooj, to Mackenzie Taylor Photography So now we must be ready for Fontainebleau, right? I hope so, ‘cause we just got into Font proper, and we’re setting off at o’ dark thirty to beat some of the heat. We’ve got a guidebook, a new brush, and a rented crash pad — fingers chalked and crossed.

*Other unexpected alcohol sightings in Europe include shelves of liquor at like every gelatería ever, Parisian old ladies sipping beer at breakfast, and a kid drinking rosé from a bottle on the Paris metro.

**I actually heard a French lady say this yesterday. It was to me, about her little dog, whom she also called “très mignonne.” <3

Reflections and a thank you

I guess I’ve been climbing for about two years now.

Actually, May 10th marked my two-year anniversary with the plastic at Active. I’m so glad I discovered our little bouldering gym back in 2013 (Thanks, Nick!). Climbing has taught me so much about strength, confidence, failure, and perseverance. It’s teaching me to trust myself.

11218194_10153343043179402_4539347155107344290_o Now can I be in the #fitspo club? Photo cred to Mackenzie Taylor Photography

Looking back on New Climber Sarah Anne is a little strange. V3s seemed impossible then, I thought my Elektras were the shiz (they were), and I didn’t think I’d ever do a pull-up.

I'm stronger and more confident now, but really, I’m still a beginner. I’ve finally developed a modicum of technique, but put me on anything slightly overhung and you’ll have to spoon feed me the beta. Hand-foot matches? Toe hooks? Bicycles? How does one climb? I definitely plan to get stronger, but I also have so much to learn about the basics of bouldering. I’m even newer to sport climbing, and trad is a distant dream.

Still, this year has been special because, as a newly not-totally-new climber, I’ve gotten to introduce several other people to the sport. I’ve taken a few friends out for their very first bouldering trips, and I’ve even helped teach a couple folks how to belay safely and clean routes. Sometimes I’m in the gym, and new dude bros ask me for beta. Me! For beta! Dude bros! It’s exciting to help others get psyched on a sport that has affected me in so many positive ways.

But it also makes me appreciate the guidance I’ve received from other people. I’ve learned so much about technique, training, and mindset from the Active crew, and I will always be thankful for the super strong guys who let me tag along on their bouldering trips, even when I was projecting V2s with an all-wrong attitude. They taught me to push with my feet, use my reach, and chase good times instead of grades.

Then there are the folks who have literally taught me the ropes. I am only now beginning to realize how fortunate I was to get my first lessons in belaying and leading from such experienced and safety-conscious climbers. I’m grateful to the guys who had — and have — the patience and fortitude to teach me, trust me, and correct my mistakes.

So thanks, guyz: Evan, Nicks, Chuck, Remi, Matt, John, Thomas, Jeremy, Chris, Sam, Hal, and every other person who’s seen me beg for beta, belay poorly, or cry on lead. Y'all are the best. Climbing is such a great part of my life, and it wouldn’t be as awesome without people like you.

Cucumber Aspirations: Tears and fears and finally starting to calm the heck down

I may never be completely fearless, and that’s probably a good thing. But when I finally look down, might fall, and just go for it anyway, the satisfaction of taking a risk — whether I stick the move or not — will feel so much better than keeping my feet on the ground.

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Pss-AT and Kihap: Thoughts on #tryhard sounds

Grunting also seems akin to swearing, and (occasional) swearing has been proved by SCIENCE* to increase pain tolerance! Climbers can always use more of that. In fact, in Taekwondo there is even a special term for the force that leads practitioners to shout during their practice: kihap. Evan told me about it just now, and I found a little info on the Taekwondo Wiki:

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