Trip Report: From Rock to River

There’s a very long prologue to this Trip Report. I’m hoping talking openly and honestly about the issues presented here can generate some discussion about how a person maintains a long-term relationship with their passions.

Identity. This word has been giving me a sinking feeling in my stomach for a while now. To me, identity is how you introduce yourself to a stranger. It’s the words you use to describe yourself.

“Hey! I’m Jen. I’m a climber”. Throughout the past six years, more often than not, this is how I’ve introduced myself. Climbing has been my identity. I’ve always felt chagrin about that fact I’m not a strong climber. I’m not sending 11’s for breakfast.

Can climbing still be my primary identity  if I don’t climb hard? Can climbing still be my primary identity if I get really, really scared while doing it? Can climbing still be my primary identity if I just want a break from it?

I’ve had writer’s block for the last few months because, well I’m just going to say it, I’ve been dreading climbing. I want to talk about this dread because I know I’m not the only one. I’ve built up this persona of being a climber. What are the expectations of that? Always willing to climb? Try hard 24/365? Structure your life to always prioritize climbing?

What about when that is just too much? Too much for your body: over-use injuries, traumatic injuries. Too much for your mind: lead fear, beating yourself up when you’re not sending.

Climbing as an activity takes you to the limits of your physical and mental capabilities both casually and often. For example: You’re heading out to the crag after work one day. Because you live in Colorado, it’s a 15 minute drive to Clear Creek Canyon/Boulder Canyon/Eldorado Canyon. Casual. You hop on a sand-bagged 10a to warm-up. Your blood is pumping. Now it’s time to try something harder. That’s the expectation of cragging: warm-up, then push your limits. You’re pulling on some tiny crimps. You’re 5 feet above your last bolt. Your adrenaline is pumping, soaring. You clip, shake-out. Get above your next bolt, cue adrenaline. Your left forearm can’t hold on much longer. Clip. Climb above next bolt, fear again. Often.

As climbers, we are often taken to this red-line place of fear. It can be the biggest feature of our sport. One that I’ve been struggling with. I know people swear by reading books like The Rock Warrior’s Way to calm your mind, people say to take a bunch of whips at the gym, people say all kinds of things.

And because climbing has been my identity for my adult life, I’ve felt obligated to keep pushing. Push through the fear. Through the pain. Because, what type of climber would I be if I had to admit I wanted a break?

This identity I’ve worn on my sleeve, as a lifestyle as much as a hobby, now feels like an unwelcome obligation. I don’t want to feel that way anymore. I don’t want to feel trapped in my summer climbing plans. I don’t want to dread my upcoming objectives.

I’ve been taking my butt to Mother Arkansas. Casually and often. The Arkansas River in Colorado hosts an entirely different group of people: river people. Their craft? Rafting.

Climbing: working against gravity; rafting: working with gravity. Climbing: you notice that cheeseburger you had yesterday when trying to pull your butt up pocketed 10c; rafting: you drink a lot of beer and eat a lot of food – in fact, it’s expected. Climbing: you’re not going up your project without weeks of finger strengthening, abs workouts, and shoulder mobility exercises; rafting: pry and draw your boat through rapids as you read them – if you swim, you swim.

Rafting isn’t climbing. And that’s the point. Is rafting still hardcore? Of course. You’re surrounded by liquid that wants to kill you. The first two rules of rafting are to: “Stay in the boat!”. But gosh is it fun.


A classic scene on the Arkansas: sunshine, rafts, ominous 14ers.

Thanks to my friend, Ramon, I’ve had a chance to hang out with ridiculous river rats. I’ve learned words like: strainer, pour-over, foot entrapment, FORWARD ONE, hero-stroking, “Salida 7”, and much more.

It’s an intoxicating atmosphere. A bit of fear mixed in with sunscreen topped with a healthy risk of giardia and staph.

If you’re like me and haven’t rafted much – it’s way too much fun to get dropped into a culture with which you have had no previous interaction. Climbers can be very Type A (goal-driven, perfectionist, competitive); rafters seem to tend towards Type B (laid back, go with the flow – literally). There are lots of completely true stories. Beers. And laughs.


I’m not dissing climbing. I’m not dissing climbers. I’m not saying rafters are better than climbers. Just different. Different is just what the doctor ordered (for me). All this to say: I’m learning to be okay with taking a step back from climbing. With allowing myself to admit: I’m burned out. With redefining my identity.

I’m still always going to love climbing. I’m still always going to be inspired by it. To want to do it. To want to talk about it. To get better at it.

But for right now, I just want a break. And that’s okay.

What tips do you have for staying in love with your hobbies? How do you foster a continuing desire for climbing/skiing/table-tennis/etc?

3 thoughts on “Trip Report: From Rock to River

  1. Kathy Christmas says:

    Great write up Jen. Love to hear you being true to yourself. As you know I mountain bike. I’m not good at it, I don’t compete. And recently I’ve had a long break from cross country, I switched to running. But lately I feel about running like you do about climbing. So I’ve stopped. I go occasionally for a short run. But I’ve done a few rides again and remembered how much I enjoy it.
    I think keeping the passion alive is about lifestyle , not what specific sport you do. I try to maintain a balance in my life, while setting a good example to my kids. This world has so many spectacular creations that I feel it’s my job to share with my family how it makes you feel when you spend time outdoors. So for me it’s not about keeping the passion alive, it’s about spending time with the people I love/enjoy and doing stuff that makes us laugh and appreciate the world around us.
    Do what makes you happy, spend time with the people that make you laugh. These things will evolve, everything does. So just go with the flow!


    • Jen says:

      Thank you so much for your perspective, Kathy. It seems easy to cling to an idea of something instead of going with what feels right. Discipline is such an integral part of any sport. It’s hard to know when to let go of discipline and follow fun. I really appreciate your method for doing things for enjoyment instead of an obligation. I hope to follow your example in my hobbies. Flow on!


  2. Ingrid says:

    Hi Jen, I am a stranger writing from the PNW. I came across your blog looking up Tetons beta and stumbled into this post. I just want to say, I 100% resonate with what you wrote. I too really struggled with climbing being a part of my identity and then feeling a big drop in my appetite for it. I felt pretty uncertain about my abilities as a climber, and wondered what the hell it meant for my entire life if I lost that part of myself. But I took a break for a while, trained for and raced in a triathalon (a whole new world!) and stepped away from climbing for the better part of a year. And while I wasn’t sure if the climber in me would ever come back again, I recently found myself backpacking in Yosemite looking up at the headlamps on the Dawn Wall, being filled with energy and yearning for the grit, pain, and challenge of an alpine climb. It was nice to feel that come back.
    But, now, I’d say I’ll always have that climber part of my identity, but I also am opening up to the joy of so many other things to learn and experience! I think climber culture can feel so judgmental and comparative sometimes. (Even if people aren’t always directly saying things) there’s a lot of folks vying to be the most hardcore, the most dirtbag, the most serious alpinist, the fastest, the ballsiest…etc. One of the things I did like from the Rock Warrior’s way was not training myself to be calm in the face of a huge whipper, but instead checking my ego. What are my motivations to climb this? Do I want to look cool? Am I genuinely having fun or am I secretly trying to impress people around me? Is my fear real or perceived, and either way, is this fear/ dread an indication that I’m doing what feels true to me and my path? Or are there other ways for me to grow and learn and push myself?
    Whew! Haha, that ended up being a longer post than I thought. So many feelings and thoughts about this subject. All in all, just wanted to say thanks for putting it out there, and I hope whatever adventures and moments you’re experiencing this summer are bringing you joy and growth and a sense of connection to your deepest self!


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