Updated: Apr 24
Even before I would have called myself a rock climber I had seen and heard a lot of similarities between the climbing and surfing community. . . But truth be told, I was too new to climbing and too far from surfing to understand it. I knew it started in Yosemite with Chouinard and his gang, traveling from Yosemite to South America climbing and surfing, climbing and surfing, and well, you know. But I’m from Alabama, and didn't understand what these sweaty vagabonds could possibly have in common with me.
I guess I could start from the beginning of the climbing bug for me. About ten years ago I was an aspiring lead climber trying to learn words that sounded like a foreign language, and trying to get my body to somehow take form of these words. It eventually started coming together, and before I knew it I was on my first climbing trip to the Red River Gorge. I was hooked after that trip. A year or so later I quit my job and moved up to Kentucky in the heat of August. It was hot at first but I ended up having one of the best seasons a climber could ask for, sunny and low 60’s for almost the whole month of November. I had taken a step that I thought was going to be out of my comfort zone, but ended up being exactly the direction I needed.
I moved back to Alabama after that trip, bouldering through the winter and then back on a rope for the spring. When it started getting hot out I booked it west hitting all the places I had heard others talking about while I was in Kentucky. I spent a few weeks in Maple Canyon, Utah. Then chasing whispers of beautiful areas with cooler temps, I headed north to Wyoming. The better part of July was spent in Ten Sleep. Chasing shadows to stay cool, we would climb late in the day. It felt like summer in the little town of Ten Sleep, but once we headed up into the canyon to climb it instantly felt like fall again. After that I headed even farther north to the Canadian Rockies to meet up with some other friends from that previous fall. Here it was August, a year after sweating it out in Kentucky, except this time I had my down jacket on. My friends were more than accommodating. They gave me a place to stay, grand tours of Canmore, Alberta via a borrowed bicycle, and showed me all of the world class climbing. I remember my lungs wanting to explode the first time up the hour long approach to Acephale, and somebody trying to list all of the route names as we passed them. My oxygen deprived brain had difficulty remembering all the names. But I was in awe. Among the blur of routes, there was one that stuck out. The name was Endless Summer, an ode to the couple of months they get to call climbing season this far north. I wanted to try the moves out, but it was hard, and I only had a few days there. I was short on money and had plenty of asphalt between where I was and where I needed to be, so I started heading back to the south.
Back in Alabama it was hot at first, but before I could even grasp the heat it had started to dissipate. I had another great fall, another great winter of bouldering, and before I knew it I was back at the Red for the spring. I had a friend moving to Chattanooga and thought it would be nice to be around the area for the summer, there was still a lot of rock I had managed not to see yet, even though I had been living about an hour and a half south of Chattanooga. Plus I figured it would be nice to be close to a gym and maybe get some training in for the summer. Then it hit. I had managed to ride a wave of fall weather for over a year and now and I was drowning in the heat. How could it be this bad? I grew up in this weather and it never seemed this bad, now I’m suddenly drenched with so much sweat I wish I had a chalk bag deep enough to sink my shoulders into. Somewhere between wringing the sweat out of my harness, and trying to find a pool to jump in, it finally sunk in, it’s not the sports that have so much in common it’s the lifestyle. It’s cold rock and big swells. It’s going west or north for climbers and going way south for surfers. It’s the search for the perfect line at the perfect time of year.
Every wave eventually rolls out over the sand, and it will be time to go chase another one or sit back for a minute and see what you've learned. Almost six years later and I'm still in Chattanooga (minus a short stint in China) and I couldn't be happier. I've learned that there is an appreciation of the summer months, the lulls between the waves. It's a great time for learning, reflecting, and honing the skills to chase the next fall down. It brings in a balance that extends the sport and the lifestyle so that you don't come crashing down. So that you have plenty of time to spend on the road... and off.