Before attending the Pursuit Series in San Jose, I believed myself to be a reasonably fit individual. I lift (bro), twist myself into pretzel-esque, yoga positions, and while I hate running, I trick myself into a healthy amount of cardio by boxing, dancing, and spin.
But by the time two shiny, air-conditioned shuttle buses pulled up to the edge of a forest (a 15-minute drive outside of Sanborn County Park) with 14 active, outdoorsy Californians (who live in a state of perpetual summer) this carb-obsessed Canadian was seriously questioning her physical competency.
We picked our way through the forest, avoiding questionable patches of poison ivy, enjoying the light hike as rays of sun came streaming through the towering trees. Upon entering the clearing where the Adventure Out guides were waiting to teach us the ropes (literally) of rock climbing, I slipped on loose dirt and leaves and tumbled in on my ass. Elegant as always. If this was an indication of what my first experience rock climbing outdoors would be, it was going to be a difficult couple of hours.
I could barely pay attention to introductions as I eyed the intimidatingly lofty swathes of sandstone rock that we were supposed to be scaling with mounting trepidation. How the heck am I supposed to climb this beast?! From my vantage point, the smooth rock face seemed to stretch endlessly towards the sky, seemingly insurmountable.
Of all the activities I tried over the course of the three-day weekend at the Pursuit Series, I was most proud of conquering my first attempt at outdoor rock climbing. At the end of the day, it wasn’t about how many walls I could scale (one) or how difficult it was (very), but merely having tried and proving to myself that I was capable of doing something I didn’t think I could.
Here are 7 of my Outdoor Rock Climbing Observations:
If you’ve never rock climbed outside of a rock climbing gym, hopefully you can either pick up some tips before you go or these observations will make the activity seem less daunting!
01/ CUT YOUR NAILS
I noticed that everyone kept their nails cut short which is ideal for rock climbing as it doesn’t compromise your grip. While my shellacked talons are strong enough to resist surface scratches, they’re not impervious to breaking as I scrabbled at the rough rock. As shamefully girly as it is to admit, I counted walking away with all nails intact almost as much a victory as reaching the pinnacle of the boulder.
02/ WEAR LONG PANTS
I’ve long believed that rock climbing would make a great first date. You develop trust with your belaying partner, there’s sexy physical contact, no awkward silences, AND you get a great view of their derrière. This activity requires you to wear a harness that is tight across the bottom of your…well, bottom. To avoid a peepshow from below, wear LONG pants (or leggings) as shorts can ride up uncomfortably high. Trust.
03/ TRUST YOUR GEAR
With not a single colour-coded rock climbing grip in sight, in order to scale smooth rock faces you have to rely on the sticky rubber covering climbing shoes to help your progress upwards. It may feel bizarre to merely wedge your foot into corners without actually stepping ON something but just have faith in your gear and take slow, small steps on your way to the top!
04/ COMMUNICATION IS KEY
If you slip during a climb, the only thing preventing you from plummeting to the ground is your partner. As you clamber skywards, your comrade remains on the ground, ensuring that the rope that is attached to your harnessed is taut and secured so that if you make a misstep that you don’t have far to fall. Communicating with them is key, whether it’s letting them know that you’re ready to begin, come down, or want the rope tightened.
05/ SLOW AND STEADY
There is no prize or four-course pasta feast at the top of a climb (that I’m aware of) so take your time, especially if you’re a novice. It’ll take experience to understand where is ideal to grip or how to shift your weight and each climb has it’s own challenges. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to take a little break if you’re tired or so you can properly consider your next step.
06/ KNOW YOUR LIMITS
If you’re a competitive person, watching fit Californians fly up the wall after sandstone wall with seeming ease may ignite the flame of ambition. If you find that you can’t reach your lofty goals, the experience can leave you with a bruised and scraped ego. The more worthy aim is to only push yourself to your personal best and leave that comparison at ground level.
07/ SOAK IN THE MOMENT
After sweating and swearing your way to the top, don’t forget to take a moment and enjoy the euphoria of a hard-earned success. Chances are, when you’ve reached new heights that the view will be spectacular so take a breath and soak it all in. You deserve it.