Climbing by Elizabeth Simoneau, Digital Marketing Specialist.
GETTING A HOLD OF IT: FINDING COMMUNITY AND COURAGE WITH BLACK DIAMOND AND LOCAL CLIMBERS
When you think of climbing, do you think of some insanely jacked guy free-soloing an impossibly dangerous cliff face? If the answer is yes, I’m going to politely ask you to shove that image out of your mind - that intimidating stereotype is far from what the sport is really all about. Climbing is actually about community. And the glue that holds the community together is a diverse range of people who were also once intimidated, if not by stereotypes, then at least by the size of those mighty rock formations so beloved by outdoor climbers.
To get a taste of this tight-knit community for myself, I headed to Salt Lake City to meet with the people from iconic climbing brand Black Diamond, scale some legendary Utah rocks, and learn what the sport means to local climbers. As they showed me the (literal) ropes, I learned about their climbing backstories and how the sport has taught them to push their limits in ways they never thought possible. But having only ever been bouldering at a gym, I had to push some limits of my own, too.
Regardless of beginner or seasoned-expert status, one thing is certain: climbing is inherently dangerous. Having safe gear - and knowing how to use it - is critical. Before the gear even gets in the climber’s hands, it has to be rigorously tested in every possible condition. So before I geared up for the outdoor crag, I made my way to Black Diamond’s headquarters near the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City to see the testing process in action.
At the Black Diamond Quality Control Department, safety comes first. I met with Kolin Powick, avid climber and Vice President of Product, and product engineers, most of whom are climbers too. They perform tests to see how finished products hold up in conditions like extreme cold, extreme heat, being left out in the dirt, being left in wet conditions, and general misuse.
It also helped that the following morning began with gorgeous spring sunshine. I met with three other climbers - Lindsey, Britney, and Phil - and the warm weather had us all keen to start climbing. So we started the trek into the forest.
Lindsey and Britney already knew each other, but it didn’t take long to see proof of just how tight-knit the climbing community is. The three of them started raving about mutual connections, their favourite climbing stories, and how they got into the sport.
As we approached the climbing site, I understood her trepidation completely. Soaring out of the forest was the climbing face, a rock wall of intimidating height. I felt so small looking up at the giant rock, it almost gave me vertigo. The bouldering walls at the gyms I’ve been to were nothing compared to its immense size. I definitely felt a bit stressed.
Britney started climbing outdoors two years after she got her start in a gym. She was introduced to it by friends, but might have begun sooner, had she known it was possible.
“I wish I would have known that climbing is a sport accessible to beginners. In the media or social media, you see climbing as a very intense sport. Everyone you see doing it is very athletic. But in reality, you can start from the beginning, and evolve slowly.”
Setting up at the site is done by the more experienced climbers, who make sure the ropes are ready for the others. In our squad, this was led by Phil, who put on his Airnet Harness and got to work.
Check out Phil’s gear:
When it was my turn to start climbing, I began slowly, testing my Momentum Climbing Shoes in the curves of the crag. In Utah, the rock has been formed in a really special way. It’s almost as if it was meant to be climbed, like it’s calling out for you. I would sometimes come to moments where I felt unsure of myself, but thinking back to the product testing helped me trust the rope. You also have to trust the person holding the rope.
Sport climbing always requires two people. Inherently, you’re always there for the other person. When you’re belaying someone - a technique that involves creating friction in the rope system to prevent your climbing partner from falling - you have to be focused on them the entire time.
Check out Britney and Lindsey’s gear:
As the day went on, the once towering rock face became smaller and smaller in my mind. I learned from my group that the point isn’t to always get to the top, but to succeed in your own way, reaching a little higher than before. If you only go up a few metres, everyone will still be handing out high-fives when you come down. For me, though, a day of pushing myself to new heights meant I was eventually able to make it all the way to the summit. I looked out proudly on my new view of the breathtaking Utah landscape, then narrowed in on the smiling face of the person holding my rope below.
Climbing doesn’t require peak athleticism or dangerous antics, but you do need gear and people you can trust. I learned to trust the gear at Black Diamond’s testing facilities, and was able to triumph over mighty outdoor rocks by trusting my new-found belaying partners. My time in Salt Lake City was short, but made sweet by the climbing community I formed with Britney, Lindsey, and Phil on that golden spring day. Their fearlessness and enthusiasm will continue to inspire me to reach new heights.