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Life Lesson Learned from Rock Climbing

 In Life Happens, Outdoors, Rock Climbing, Stories

I’m trembling uncontrollably. My mind races as I methodically go through the imaginary scenario of me falling 20 feet, my skull cracking open like an egg on the large rock below.

“Just reach up and lunge, you’ve got this.” Squirrel calls.

I stand there, frozen, unable to speak,  pinching a ledge of rock about a knuckle deep for dear life. We had bushwhacked our way up the south side of Castlewood Canyon to hang out on some walls and get our climb on – however at that moment it was the last thing I could bring myself to do. Half way up a route the holds went from gentle 5.9  jugs to grueling 5.11a finger killers. There I was, stuck in my sick fantasy on how was I going to fall to certain death. Suddenly, tears started to trickle down my face.

“JUST GO FOR IT. What are you doing?!” Squirrel pressed.

“Well,” I sniffed “Currently I’m having a breakdown. I’m crying ok!” Aggravated at myself more than anything Squirrel began to talk me out of my mental cliff jump and back down the wall.

Life can get funny on the crag, but you always come away stronger.

Lessons Learned Rock Climbing

Crushing a Crippling Fear

I’ve been consistently climbing rocks for a little over 2 years. That’s a small miracle. To be completely honest with you heights terrify me. When I say terrify I really mean paralyze me. My fear is so strong that when I first started out I pulled muscles in my arms thinking that the rope was surely going to give way when I let go. So why did I start climbing in the first place? Well, in short, Squirrel wanted to get back into shape. He loves to climb so in order to support him I said I’d give it a solid try.

Life Lessons Learned from Rock climbing

It’s taken me a long time to truly get over my fear of heights, and I still struggle from time to time. That being said, I wouldn’t put myself past crying on a wall again. But I’ve learned that the more you face your fears, the less scary they become. By nature, I want to succeed and I’ll work hard to do it. So I continue to try. I allowed myself to let go. No sport has ever really enlightened me on my own qualities the way rock climbing has.

Trust Yourself and Go Conquer Anything

About a year ago I started lead climbing. This is when the person at the bottom, the belayer, feeds you slack and the rope follows you up the route. There is no safety net sensation of the rope pulling you up like top rope. Furthermore, if you fall you aren’t falling inches, it’s more like several feet of free-fall before there is tension in the line and the person below you catches your fall.

The first time I learned to lead climb the instructor made me fall. I nearly died on the inside. My legs were shaking so uncontrollably it was next to impossible for me to let go. When I did I tried to grab the wall. The second time, the rope. The third I drug my feet. All of these habits are extremely dangerous for obvious reasons.

Life Lessons Learned from Rock Climbing

Despite this I knew Squirrel loved lead climbing and as I’d watch him head up the wall I too wanted to try. So I kept trying. Each time I’d come down and proclaim that it wasn’t for me and I’d never do it again. But week after week, time after time I’d try again. Little by little I’d gain some sense of confidence and trust in the gear.

Soon I would head up the wall, get my last clip between my thighs and feet and let go. I would force failure on myself, something that made me so uncomfortable I’d almost have a fit. Relentlessly, I’d force myself out of my comfort zone and into the land of failure. What did I find? I didn’t die, I didn’t get hurt, I’d be just fine. The gear would hold and someone was there to break my fall.

Now I can push myself further, up harder routes, in more uncomfortable situations and when I think of the possibility of failure it doesn’t phase me. I will be just fine.

Life lessons learned from Rock climbing

Don’t Bother Comparing Yourself to Others

Climbing is a mental game as much as a physical one. It’s personal. The struggle is with yourself and you alone, with your partner to guide you. Connections with a climbing partner typically evolve into a deep trust. However, at the same time it’s just you and the wall. The focus and physical exertion create the challenge. It’s not about what the guy next to you is doing, it’s about your inner focus. What are your goals? What do you want? How are you going to improve?

Life Lessons learned from rock climbing

Bad Day? Big Deal.

No one can go out there and crush it day after day. No one. We all strive to be our best and put our best foot forward, but sometimes that just isn’t going to happen. As a climber, this is a lesson I learned early on. There are days where I can just rampage up a technical 5.11d and I’ve had days where I’m lucky to struggle my way up an easy 5.9.

It’s ok to have a fun day doing easy stuff. Not every day will be progress. Not every route will push you to the max. That’s ok. It’s getting out that counts. It’s not worth getting frustrated over it.

Mother nature has a funny way of reminding us that we aren’t always in charge, but we are always experiencing life. As long as your mind is open to the experience you’re doing just fine.


Life on the Rocks

Nature has a funny way of showing us our own reflection. No where else I have seen that more clearly on the rock. The ultimate lesson I take away from spending time on rocks is that in order to overcome your fears you have to look inward first and accept yourself for who you are. That builds strength, and with strength and determination, you can overcome anything.

Girls Gone Into the Wild

A super special thanks to Girls Gone into the Wild for providing this post with some stellar images. Girls Gone into the Wild focuses on three feisty females and their journeys in the great outdoors.

You can check out their website here: Girls Gone into the Wild

Or find them on Facebook (Girls Gone Into the Wild) or Instagram @girlsgoneintothewild

And thanks Dan for taking those awesome photos!

The outdoors has so much to teach us. Life on the crag is no different. Rock climbing brings us closer to ourselves by building both physical and mental stamina.

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Showing 35 comments
  • Nicole Anderson

    This sport is a great way to overcome your fears and build confidence in your abilities. Each time you succeed, makes you more capable as a person and the point you made about not competing with other people (just focusing on your own improvements) is so true. Great post and lovely photos!

    • foxintheforest

      Thanks Nicole! It was amazing to see just how personal of a sport climbing is. It’s almost meditative to me – just me and the next move.

  • Anna

    This is written so beautifully, thanks for sharing! I can 100% relate to you. Maybe 95% because I’ve only attempted to lead once and it was freaking terrifying. So much so that after I climbed about two feet I was desperate to come down. Pronto.
    I bouldered a lot for a while, then added sportclimbing to the mix (never as a lead though), then took a break. Now I’ve been trying to work up my courage again. Yesterday, I was dangling from a very nice hold about 4 feet off the ground and did. not. want. to. let. go. When I did it really wasn’t that bad.
    In hindsight my “funniest”experience was climbing with a group of very experienced friends who fully supported me and challenged me and helped me. However, this one person was sitting on the top of the rock with what I assumed was his belay device when he made a quick decision to use his very old Italian mountaineering device which essentially is okay as long as you climb up but does not let you lower anyone down on a wall.
    So, I started my climb, got a good amount up the wall and got stuck. I just could not push or pull myself any higher. I asked him to give me slack and he shouted “not possible” in an Italian accent. After a bit of back and forth everyone around us realised what was happening and so eventually I was helped down by another friend who had climbed up to me, let me stand on his shoulders while I secured my weight on another rope and undid the figure of eight knot on my harness. I was in tears and the friend quickly realised his mistake but I would not want to repeat that experience ever again.

    • foxintheforest

      OMG I can’t believe your friend! I would have been completely traumatized!
      Bouldering was a tough one for me. The thought of not being roped in. Plus, the way the routes are graded was hard to get used to. I was always so frustrated that I could only do like V2’s. But the more I did it the more I saw it as a dance and less like something you just muscle through. I’m with you on letting go – it took a while.

      Either way, just keep with it. Exposure to the things that scare you really make it less scary!

  • Annette, Four Acorns

    Fantastic post! Good on you for overcoming your fear of heights and heading out and up like this! I used to rock climb (a little bit) too, before I had children, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I might try to get back into it with the kids. x

    • foxintheforest

      Anette you have to take your kids! There are so many children at my gym and I’m envious of their gumby-like nature! They are impressive climbers! Maybe they’ll even get worn out 🙂

  • Natasha von Geldern

    Awesome post (from a fellow rock climber), I’m very impressed that you’ve overcome such a strong fear of heights!

  • Helena

    I loved reading this post and the photos are great. #OutdoorBloggers

  • travelwithtarah

    I went rock climbing for the first time a few weeks ago with my mom and am going again this weekend! I really enjoyed it and hope to improve and am going to try to rock climb whenever I can! What have been your favorite climbs you’ve done so far?

    • foxintheforest

      Hi Tarah,

      I really like climbing around Golden, CO – it’s close to home and there are a TON of routes in easy reach. I’m really glad you enjoyed climbing! I hope you keep with it.

  • Sara - I do what I want to

    I love this piece, not that I climb or want to but because it is so true that we can overcome our fears and that we can do anything we put our minds to. Of course life is not a rose path but the path isn’t made of pointy glass either, take each day as it comes, forgive yourself and allow yourself to thrive. Thanks for sharing

    • foxintheforest

      Exactly Sarah!
      I’ve been struggling a lot with a major life decision and I was out climbing and it got me thinking about the parallels to life and a personal sport. I’ve found being in the outdoors, as well as solo travel, has really given me the courage to get out there and pursue my dreams full throttle. It’s so important to be true to yourself!

  • Reply

    Where is Castlewood canyon? I think I missed where you said it was cause it looks amazing there. I have rock climbing on my Bucket List now because I realized that I hadn’t gone rock climbing since I was a teenager in the boy scouts (just nerded myself I know)!
    So when I was talking to my friend, he asked why I put it on my list since I used to do it a lot. Well that was 25+ years ago (ouch!!) and I think that it would be a totally unique and different experience and outlook as an “adult”.

    • foxintheforest

      Hey Eric!

      Castlewood is out south of Denver, CO. There are definitely better places to climb – but it’s a spot that’s close to home. The photos from this post are from all over, just the intro story revolved around Castlewood. You should definitely try climbing again! I went climbing for the first time when I was in middle school – I went on a trip to Joshua Tree National Park – a climbing mecca! It is for sure a different experience as an adult and I totally encourage you to go and find a climbing spot that fits for you and give it a go!

  • Magretha Palepale

    I’ve had this post flagged in my email for about a week now! So glad I finally got the chance to read it. Love what you have to say and how you’ve said it. On your opening paragraph, I immediately started chanting my inner mantra “don’t think of the bad, don’t think of the bad…”. Thanks for sharing!

    • foxintheforest

      Thanks Mo! I’m going to have to try that one next time I’m on a sketchy overhang. I’ve always just told myself I’m fine – but then I’m like AHH OMG NOOOO NOT FINE NOT FINE! Maybe “don’t think of the bad” will work!

  • ADAM

    It’s such a wonderful feeling when you can overcome your fears and conquer them. Inherently, we all have fears that we need to conquer. Some people sit in their shell for their entire lives and never understand that feeling of overcoming your fears. Great for you for being able to overcome your fear.

    • foxintheforest

      Exactly! I’m a huge proponent of facing those fears and seeing what you discover.

  • Lena from fouronaworldtrip

    I never did rock climbing, like on a real rock on a real mountain; but I did climb indoors… once. And I LOVED it! I was so scared (of hights as well) and i struggled several times, being blocked and didnt dare to move an inch.. but then, somehow, i overcame it and went higher and higher.. it was amazing; I found the mental effort way higher than the physical, even I am one of the unfittest persons on this planet 😀

    I would love to do it again, but it’s complicated… I hope I can do it on one point again.

    • foxintheforest

      I climb indoors all the time! If you ever get the opportunity give outdoor climbing a try! There are some amazing places to climb all over the world.

  • Kallsy

    This truly inspired me! I love hiking and climbing but have sadly only ever tried rock wall climbing! I’d terrified of heights and like you, keep picturing myself falling to my certain death. My husband on the other hand loves climbing so I’ve been wanting to give it a shot to at least see if it’s something we could do together. Thank you for the encouragement!

    • foxintheforest

      Definitely give it a try! I was just like you – very hesitant but decided that if I could drag my boyfriend to places like Nepal (he had never really traveled when we met) then I owed it to him to try things that scared me – like rock climbing. Two and a half years later – we are still climbing and traveling. 🙂

  • Nicole

    I have never done rock climbing before but this looks really cool. I don’t think it would be good for my vertigo but it is really inspiring. Great photos.

  • TravelingDreads

    It is so rewarding once you step out of your comfort zone and pass through the walls of fear! Encouraging to hear the stories of others. Thanks for sharing.

    • foxintheforest

      It could be anything, it doesn’t have to be on the rock wall. I feel like a lot of travelers and adventurers alike thrive being outside of their comfort zone.

  • Kristen

    I really want to try to get into rock climbing someday. I did outdoor rock climbing once a few years ago and it was simultaneously the most terrifying and exciting thing I’ve ever done. When I made it to the top I felt amazing! But it was so hard. I’d love to try this out indoors to see how I do!

    • foxintheforest

      Hey Kristen,

      Isn’t it just a crazy feeling?!? It’s difficult to put into words. I actually belong to an indoor rock climbing gym – it’s how I work out and train for mountain activities. It’s much different (and in my opinion easier) than climbing outdoors. Not to mention it’s a great way to stay in shape. Definitely give it a go if you have the chance.

  • Liz

    Yes yes yes yes to this post! I started rock climbing last June because I’m terrified of heights (like debilitating, freeze on the spot, I’m never making it down this mountain kinda terrified of heights), and there have been a few too many times I’ve been solo backpacking and my only option was to go along some trail that was steeper than made me comfortable. So I figured I’d shift my comfort zone. I haven’t tried lead climbing yet – I’m mostly doing top-roping and bouldering aka slowly working my way up a few feet at a time and teaching myself it’s okay to fall – but I can relate perfectly to your post: that sometimes hard and easy routes are all personal perception, that nervous breakdowns can still happen on the wall, that you can’t compare yourself to others, that on any given day you may have setbacks or success, and that you just have to keep trying. <3

    • foxintheforest


      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with me. The more I talk about how difficult climbing has been for me, the more support I receive about others feeling the same. There are so many rewards to outdoor sports. Personal growth and confidence has been a huge for me. AND you get to do all of that in a beautiful setting?!? Seriously, who can complain about that? There are days where bouldering scares me more than lead climbing! It took me a LONG time to get comfortable bouldering. Just keep at it – it feels good to have successful days, but it’s ok to just take it easy and stay within your comfort zone too. Climb on girl!

  • Michelle d

    Kudos for you! I went rock climbing once and while it was beautiful and amazing to do, I just kept psyching myself out about falling to my death on the rocks haha . Not sure I could do it again.

  • Tracy (lifeofkuhl)

    To begin with, your writing is rather exquisite. I have read A LOT of blogs and most of the time I just yawn through them and cant wait to get to the bottom. You have a very unique way of engaging and drawing a reader in. I think my favorite part of the blog was the whole idea of forcing failure on ourselves. Failure to me has always come with a negative connotation. I really love and appreciate your perspective on this. Next time I am faced with something hard and that I may not master, this will def come to mind and may be a bit more inclined to push through regardless of the outcome. Thank you!!

    • foxintheforest

      Tracy thank you so much – that just made me smile so wide. Your compliment totally made my day! Failure is a funny animal. If I look back at all of the big moments in my life, most of them involve some type of failure. Without it, we’d never succeed. Overcoming that fear of failure always leads to greater things and tremendous personal growth.

  • Christina

    Climbing a cliff, mountain, wall etc would be intense for me. Not that I have a fear of heights but the fear of falling and severely injuring myself or worse. But if I had the ropes for help it would make it easier but that moment you are on the wall and being told to trust someone else is “intense”. I can’t imagine the views you must get from the climbs. That to me would be the best part.

  • Katie

    I’ve always wanted to try climbing, but I’ve been so afraid of heights as well- I don’t think it’s quite so paralyzing as what you’re describing, but it is definitely very uncomfortable. It’s awesome to hear your story of conquering your fear- I may have to give it a try!

  • neha

    Your post reminded me of what my grandma used to say – there is something to learn in every activity that you undertake and in every creature around you. I have never tried rock climbing. But you make me feel it is such an enriching experience. I will like to try it when I get a chance next

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