Words and Pictures by Veronika Hair
We all have stories to tell and we want to hear and share them with everyone! Sender Stories is now dedicated to our members and community to share your experiences and of course, Share Our Passions, Find Creative Beta, Learn from our Projects and Send Them, See from Other People’s Perspective, and Climb Together! Sender One embraces personal experiences being told within our community and encourage all to share!
“‘I could never climb that’, I said to myself as I watched for the first time in my life as people scaled the rock faces that towered before me. Sitting 547 feet above sea level on a bouldered ledge was enough of a test against my fear of heights for me, I sat in awe at the seemingly fearless and effortless movements they used. The smooth rocks posed no threat to their rubbered climbing shoes, and I craned my neck to watch them reach the tops of their ascents. I thought, ‘What a ridiculous thing to tell myself…I could never climb that…how could I possibly know without trying?’ My beautiful brown dog looked up at me as if to agree; What limits was I placing on myself before even attempting to place my feet on that wall? I continued watching the man and woman, doing what I now know as belaying, and made a determined decision…I was going to learn to rock climb. Standing up and looking west towards the San Diego skyline and the glittering Pacific Ocean, I made myself a promise to pursue a hobby which scared me. Honestly, maybe the first promise I’ve kept to myself.
The next day I began climbing at my local gym. I knew nothing about technique or training. I guess that’s where most of us actually start…at the beginning. As I started climbing alone, I bouldered mostly. Learning the rating systems and watching others, I began to see how patience and persistence would be the way to solve these problems. V1’s were doable. I never imagined I’d attempt a V4 in my life and quickly swept that thought aside remembering my determination on my hike. Each Friday at 9 in the morning, I would enter into that gym solo and climb. Anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, bouldering and watching. Watching the other climbers who were phenomenal to me, and to be frank, they still are. An incredible amount can be learned about climbing from watching how others choose their paths on the wall. Each movement requires an expenditure of energy, and I quickly saw how learning to conserve energy and climb with a mindset of preserving energy would be the secret on the harder climbs. I sat and attempted the same routes over and over, even if I completed them. The goal of this was to climb them with little to no effort, and to find the easiest way to top out. This was a powerful lesson I learned in the beginning and my favorite way to learn and implement new techniques to this day.
At the time I was being seen in a physical therapy office for some chronic pain issues I was having, which was taking its toll on my mental health as well. With my marriage falling apart when it should have been the ‘American Dream’, my body was seemingly falling apart as well. My job was astounding: a kayak guide in La Jolla, and I loved it. The ability to be on the water every day brought that balance and gratitude I needed to remain grounded. Climbing just added to the goodness of my life, and it allowed me a place to focus on just me and my movements. It became a place where nothing else could reach me, because I was too busy reaching for something else.
Shortly after starting to climb, I took an outdoor class and spent the day climbing at the same spot I had made that promise to myself. And I failed to finish the top rope climb. I was quite disappointed in myself but since I had been bouldering for the first few months, the height of this climb was more than I expected. When you’re 30 feet up on the side of a mountain and the wind kicks up, that’s when the fear settles in. The stretch of the rope caught me off guard and I was not convinced any of this gear was going to actually hold me, at all. Gripped by fear, to put it gently. The others in the group gave me positive feedback, yet I felt terrible and embarrassed. I was the only one who was not able to top out, yet I was the most ‘gung-ho’ about this experience. How could I ever get back on a rope? It was incredibly hard to feel the confidence to get back onto a top rope set up, even in the gym. I left the crag feeling defeated and increasingly intimidated at the thought of climbing outdoors or top rope again. Bouldering became the safest way for me to enjoy climbing without the fear of my gear, or worse my partner, failing me.
And then I climbed with my friend Ali. The whirlwind of a woman who left most people behind with her ability to adventure on the daily with extremely little rest and tons of food. Ali lives on what we call ‘Sea Turtle Time’…meaning if she says she’ll be there by 3, she probably won’t be by til 6. Ali, the woman who showed me that positive friendships built around climbing will be empowering as hell. She made climbing look like art…still does. Climbing with Ali made me a better climber; she motivated me to tie that figure 8 and get back onto the wall. Taught me about making holds more positive or negative and cheered me on through my brutal anxiety attack in Joshua Tree, Christmas of 2017. Ali taught me how to trust my gear, communicate with my climbing partner, and reignited my passion. This friendship is the reason my climbing blossomed into a daily thing, rather than a hobby. We climbed hard together inside until I broke my finger and took a year or so off to heal. That’s when I got ‘The Job’.
After going through a divorce, moving, mitigating my illnesses and finding the time to sleep, I finally received a management position in my job, and I was thrilled. ‘I’ll finally be successful and happy!’ While chanting that to myself never made it true, and after putting my efforts into a position that took all my focus away from my family, friends, and hobbies I made another determined decision to step down from managing and focus on climbing. I wanted to find a way to make my life so involved with climbing that it wasn’t an issue of time or money or ability. Putting my feet on that wall, my fingers onto crimps, and topping out on climbs was what made me happy…And I was not going to let anything stand in my way of being happy any longer. The month I stepped down, I stepped back into the gym 3 to 4 times a week. The feeling of elation took hold almost instantaneously. Being out of the gym for such varied times took a toll on my climbing ability, but this time I did not allow this fact to deter me from continuing to pursue my skills. Eventually my desire to get back outside came roaring back, but I lacked the skills and experience to go out on my own. I took a gym to crag class with Golden State Guiding where I learned how to take my skills from an indoor top rope scene to the crag. The information given to me at this class truly gave me the confidence and information I needed to get back outside.
Our final day with Golden State Guiding was spent outside at none other than Mission Gorge; the place this story began. When I first heard we’d be returning, my stomach dropped a bit. Last time I failed myself and this time, if I failed should I even keep climbing? With each class I took for that month, my confidence grew, and by the time we had our outdoor day, I felt almost no anxiety. In fact, I took the first climb of the day (Turkey Chute 5.7), which had an extremely interesting boulder problem as the first move. As I entered into the chute, I looked up at the crack before me and saw each hand and foot placement. With determination I ascended and topped out without issue. Proud. And motivated! I did it! I climbed the next two climbs with fervor and topped them out as well, and rappelled for the first time outside. This time I was undeterred by the rocks smooth faces and sloping handholds. I had learned to trust my feet and the gripping rubber of the climbing shoes I wore.