Rozalynn S. Frazier, senior fitness editor at Health, knew scaling the mountain side would be physically exhausting – but the emotional strength she needed surprised her.
There I was – about three quarters of a rock formation in California's Joshua Tree National Park. I was tired. But more than that, I was pissed that this one section, which I called the Crack, was causing me so much trouble. Below, my team of strong women cheered me on. Above me Savannah Cummins, an adventure photographer and experienced mountaineer, was balancing on a rope like a ninja. She offered tips as I held on to each of my movements, but with tiredness and frustration coming in, it sounded more like Charlie Brown's teacher whaa-whaa-whaa.
This particular rock face was nothing like the indoor climbing walls had re-practiced in New York; it was infinitely harder. You see, in the gym, there were defined routes marked by colors representing difficulty levels, and distinctive pimples that you use to grab or kick. But in the open, I could not find a clear way. So each chalk hand or toe position felt like trying to fit a piece into a challenging puzzle ̵
I knew I had to move, grabbed a boulder and pulled away like a pistachio nut. I fell a bit before feeling my rope tighten. At that time I was reminded of my mortality. I closed my eyes and put my forehead against the rock. "You can do that," I told myself. More importantly, I told myself to trust my belayer (the person charged with securing me).
Basically, the art of climbing is about two things: overcoming physical obstacles and trusting people. For me, the first part was no big deal. I'm not saying it's easy to use every muscle in my body to grab small crevasses and slide my frame over rocky surfaces, but I've done several marathons and even walked the Alps. Translation: I feel physically uncomfortable and have taught myself to persevere. But trusting others is hard for me. The fact that the rope to which I am connected is literally tied to the waist of another person, and that is the only thing that prevents me from hitting this mountain, or worse, falling 100 feet free? Yes, that's my worst nightmare.
If you know that, you may be wondering what made me try a sport that puts my life in the hands of another human being. Well, "sport climbing" is celebrating its Olympic debut in 2020. Mostly it's male-dominated and North Face wants to change that. Therefore, she invited a group of editors to explore the activities. Honestly, it seemed like a good idea sitting at my comfy desk in New York City. I love athletic challenges and have been in the whole female empowerment angle. I did not even think about the trust aspect.
So, on the rock – torn between giving up and fighting like hell to finish – I gave myself a moment to regroup. I allowed myself to shed a few tears because it was heavy AF, but also because I mourned the loss of my uncle Russ who had died the day before I started my adventure. I looked down at my protector and thought, "Let's do that." At that moment, it became clear that I had to work on my own, but that I could use the power of those around me – in this case, the person holding my rope and my editorial friends, who yell at me from below.
With renewed determination and a greater sense of support, I kept coming up until I reached the top of the mountain, but even more proud that I had allowed myself to give up control and trust other people. These moments on the rock have taught me that although I can handle obstacles on my own, I do not have to.
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