The Climbing Chronicles: A humbling perspective

Erin Marshall / for the Itemizer-Observer Jennifer Halley attempts to climb a route on Sunday at Ozone.

Last month I hurt my shoulder and had to take a month off of climbing while I (impatiently) waited for it to heal. It finally did and I was antsy to get back to climbing – specifically outdoor climbing. Since Oregon is plagued by rain nine months out of the year, I like to take every chance I can get to climb outside during the sunny months.

So I planned a trip to Ozone, a climbing crag just outside of Camas, Washington, with some friends this last weekend. It’s a beautiful spot: you have to hike down a steep trail to get to the base of the wall, which reaches as high as 120 feet in some areas. Thick tangles of fir trees surround you from every angle and there is a sweeping view of the Columbia River Gorge beyond that. It’s one of my favorite spots for a day trip.

Sunday morning when we arrived, I approached the wall with an energy and determination to climb hard.

The first route I attempted, Dirty Jugs, with a 5.9 grade (climbing routes are graded from 5.6 – 5.15d, so each grade gets harder and harder the higher it is; 5.9 is considered moderately easy), I realized something as I struggled up the wall that was both parts devastating and revitalizing: rock climbing is a humbling, humbling sport.

I didn’t send, or reach the top, of any climbing routes I got on. During the month of being injured, I lost so much of the power and strength I had spent months previously building on. Before getting hurt, I was climbing four to five times a week, strength training and using the hangboard, a training tool designed to help build strength in the fingers, a few times a week. I was set on coming into the outdoor season stronger than last year. Now I couldn’t even climb up routes that used to be considered warm ups for me. How maddening.

This trip was devastating because I wasn’t climbing as hard as I wanted to; revitalizing because it’s given me a focus on what to work on as I get back to training and strength training now that my shoulder has healed.

Life’s funny. No matter how much you plan and prioritize and make goals, there’s no guarantee of any outcome. It can feel, sometimes, as though life has a relentless disregard for what you want out of it. Which is when you realize that life isn’t created for you. It’s such a wonderful thing to be a part of but it’s not yours to take or control.

Through climbing, I am realizing that when things don’t go according to plan, rather than pushing back you just try and go with the flow. Like with putting all those hours and energy into training, only to get hurt and watch all that progress slip through my fingers. It sucks. It’s frustrating. But instead of letting all of that get to my head, I kept attempting route after route. I kept trying.

Climbing is a sport where you will probably see more failures than successes. More falls than you’d care to admit. It has the ability to crush you, if you allow it. I’ve come away from the wall many times in tears or close to, feeling destroyed by a route I couldn’t send. Failing is the reality of this sport.

Maybe that’s why it’s so appealing. Because no matter how many times I fail or fall, I come back, just one more time, to see if I can get that send. And when I do, when I finally do, there’s no better feeling.

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