There’s nothing quite like a road trip. You get to see so much more than when you travel by plane, or at least you see it at a much more relaxed pace. If that’s true, then a rock-climbing road trip must be one of the best kinds of road trips. You stop in a few select beautiful spots for a few days, you explore the broad landscape looking for shapes and contours that appeal to you, then you zoom right in on the smallest of details. Ah, that’s it, you exclaim! A tiny ridge of textured rock that you’d missed before. Now that you see it – now that you feel it – you’re able to get over the crux of the route you’ve been working your way up (and continually falling off) for the last half hour.

I’d met my travel partner, Jaime, just once before jumping into a trip that would take us to the fantastic climbing destinations of Skaha Bluffs (in Penticton BC), Squamish, and Smith Rock, Oregon. But we hit it off immediately and I really liked that he pushed me to climb harder while still being very easy going.

Fall colours in Penticton
Fall colours in Penticton

A year ago I injured my ankle quite badly in an intentional practice fall while climbing. The idea was to get over that natural fear of falling that we all have. Unfortunately, the injury did just the opposite. After the injury, the thought of risking a fall simply seemed far too scary and the chances of re-injury much too real. It has only been in the last few months that I’ve had the courage to start lead-climbing again and that’s after a lot of visualization work.

Jaime working up the wall at Skaha Bluffs
Jaime working up the wall at Skaha Bluffs

Jaime is a great coach. Not only does he help me figure out the moves but, much more importantly, he pushes me to try harder. The only way you get better at anything in life is by taking some risks. In climbing, if you’re smart about it, the chances of getting hurt are actually pretty small. The risk you’re taking is really one of failing. Failing to stick the next awkward hold, failing to push through the fear of falling.

Playing on boulders in Squamish
Playing on boulders in Squamish

The first lesson Jaime taught me is that when you’re climbing on top-rope, the rope is only there to catch you when you fall. It’s not there to rest on or help you get up to the top. “Climb until you fall.” So, that’s what I decided to do. It seems so silly now, but the next time I felt my arms burning and that sensation of “I need the rope tight – I’m going to fall!” come over me, it scared me to push on. Yet, I did keep climbing until eventually my feet slipped out from under me and I fell. But I can only tell you how good that felt! It’s so empowering to push yourself to your limit – beyond your limit – and to realize that even when you fall, you’re ok. Falling does not equal failing.

Smith Rock, Oregon
Smith Rock, Oregon

That gave me the courage to start leading some easy routes. When those went well, I tried some harder ones, first figuring out the moves on top-rope then climbing them on lead. It took a lot of courage, but I’m really happy to say that I lead my first 5.9, the aptly named Phone Call From Satan at Smith Rock, and a short 5.10a at Skaha!

Climbing in the warm glow of a desert sunset at Smith Rock
Climbing in the warm glow of a desert sunset at Smith Rock

The funny thing is that those harder routes, whose moves I’d worked through with the security of being on top-rope, were much less scary than climbing the easier ones on lead with no prior knowledge of how to climb them. Really, it’s not knowing the moves that gives me confidence, it’s having already successfully done the climb without falling. If I can do it with the rope above me, I can do it with the rope below me. But climbing something on-sight is scary — you’re taking the risk of falling. Of failing.

The next step in my climbing evolution is to start leading more routes that challenge me with no prior knowledge of them. And, really, beyond the pure fun of playing on rock, that’s why I enjoy climbing so much. I love the challenge of solving the puzzle and of pushing myself to do something that really scares me.

Surrounded by the volcanic spires of Smith Rock
Surrounded by the volcanic spires of Smith Rock

Special thanks to Gary & Amanda for the fun visit, Charles for the great tour of Vancouver, Ivan and Yulin at Squamish Oasis Hostel for the wonderful hospitality and great home-cooked meals, and for taking us out on your sailing boat!, Wills for showing us around Seattle, and Lin & Bruce for having us stay at your place while you were away. And, of course, thanks to Jaime for being a great travel partner!

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