It’s well past my established bedtime and we’ve finally arrived near Shelf Road, just outside of Canon City, CO. We just looped the campsite and every single spot was taken. Just as I was visualizing how my dog Nina and I were going to squeeze in my car for the night Vivian popped into view. “Hey guys, I found someone who will let us pitch a tent on their site!” Before long logistics were settled, beers were in hand, and everyone has having a lovely conversation above a full moon. The famed 60 foot walls of Shelf Road stood like waterfalls trapped in time in the distance. The moon cast sinister shadows among the canyon. Nervously I eyeballed the challenge.
What is Crag Life?
The crag is what what the climbing community refers to as the rock. Climbers spend a lot of time going where life lives on the edge. Aside from snakes, wasps, and birds, nothing calls this environment home. However, there are a select few in this world who brave it’s challenges and embrace this landscape to the fullest. They need it like a drug. Some people go to extreme lengths to get it.
There’s a twinkle in the eye of a climber who sees the perfect wall. Some mistake it for insanity, but it is a deep rooted respect and passion for the rock. This quirky cult keeps you on your toes. No one single thing defines crag life. It is a feeling, an emotion, a way of being.
Falling into Crag Life
A few weeks ago I was fortunate to be able to tag along with Vivian over at Angus and Vivian Adventures and get down and dirty with life on the crag. Vivian can bust leads up 5.12a’s like it’s nothing. She’s a climbing champ and I jumped at the opportunity to learn from such a stud. Although, I’ll be the first to admit, I was pretty nervous climbing with people who were well above my outdoor ability. However, who can resist the opportunity to camp, climb, and learn?
Crag Life Community
We arrived at the Free Form Wall ready to rock. However, most of the routes were jammed up with a rather large group. Fear not, in the world of crag that’s ok. Before long ropes were being borrowed, quick draws exchanged, and climbs were had. The sense of trust and community blew me away. It didn’t matter where you came from, what you were wearing, or, how good you were. We were all there for the same thing: to climb on.
Community is the essential ingredient to crag life. That can be said about any outdoor sport, but there’s something different about climbing. In other outdoor sports you are moving, you see strangers in passing. Part of the point of a sport like hiking or backpacking is to get away from people. Climbing is different. When you climb you post up at a wall and stay there. Routes are tough to set. Once you’ve gotten set up you milk that spot for all it’s worth. Instead of being a stranger, climbing promotes community, sharing, and encouragement to push yourself.
Inspired by Crag Life
Let’s be honest, in a normal setting I would have told you I had no business with the Free Form Wall. Most of those routes are 10b and higher, all lead. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, simply put they are difficult, scary, and require a high level of climbing knowledge. I can’t lead a 10b in a gym, much less outdoors. I’ve never successfully climbed anything outdoors above a 10b and certainly nothing above 45 feet.
Being surrounded by well-seasoned lead climbers inspired me to push my limits. I warmed up on the toughest route I’ve ever done. Seeing the group dance up the crag inspired me to give an 11a a try. Although I didn’t top out, I made it further than I expected to. That in itself filled me with confidence.
Terrified of heights I challenged myself to head up the tallest section of rock I could find. Not only did I get after it, but I also decided that I was going to look out and down two things I’ve never been able to do while roped up. It took tremendous courage, but something in that moment clicked. Looking out into the vast high desert landscape in front of me I understood an aspect of climbing that I never knew about before. The view. In mountaineering, I live for the view, and in that moment, I realized climbing is no different.
Climbing Pushes You
The sport of climbing is certainly not my forte. I’m not a natural at the sport and I don’t claim to be. However, there is something about climbing rocks that keeps bringing me back. The challenge of facing fears never comes easily. Climbing teaches us to keep pushing back on that fear. The harder you push the more you realize what you are truly capable of.