The title isn't deceiving. I've come into new territory while being a photographer for outdoor brands-- rock climbing. Now, when you think of rock climbing, I'm sure most of you think of being in a harness, and holding onto ropes, right? Well, that's not the type of climbing I'm being taught. Instead, I've been solo climbing, which means that all you have is the chalk on your hands, a camera in your bag, and the shakes from clinging onto a rock.
Jeff (@thenewguru) who is my photography mentor / boss / partner, is also a world-class rock climber who photographs professionals. He gave me a forewarning that I will have to learn how to climb to get some near-impossible shots that anyone on ropes would be unable to do. He also promised me that he would never take me somewhere that he didn't think I could do. Already a little nervous, I agreed that I would give it a try.
We first went to the 2nd Flat Iron at Chautauqua in Boulder where I would be climbing with another professional for a brand shot. Well, I made it up about a 4th of the way, telling myself that I wouldn't look down because if I did, I would start shaking more. He ultimately made the call that I didn't have the right gear to continue. I felt like my first attempt was a fail. But then I realized, getting out there was better than not. I'll try again.
The next time we went climbing, we went to Eldorado, a place where all the great professionals climb. I'm looking up at the size of the cliffs and feeling my heart race and pulse throughout my body. I'm giving this a real effort this time. I was absolutely scared shitless. I've been in situations where I've been pushed out of my comfort zone, but this was a whole new level of discomfort.
My breathing felt tightened, and the rocks were hot-- it was around 100 degrees when we climbed. If you can climb in the worst conditions, you'll be able to climb in anything. OK JEFF. We hiked up a trail to start our ascent, which was about 1000 feet. I chalked up my hands, took a deep breah and started to watch his foot pattern and hand placement. I felt my skin burning not only on my hands, but also on my heels where blisters were forming. Then the shaking came in. I was slowly but surely making my way up the rock without ropes. Picking my patterns. Only looking up. You know when someone tells you that in certain situations, there's a fight or flight feeling that comes over you? Well, I had no choice. The only way was to fight through the heat to keep going up. Jeff kept encouraging me to find good holds (crevices in the rocks where I have strong hands), and to trust my feet. I had no other choice. I listened, analyzed, and kept moving my way up the slab. I was shaking from fear and adrenaline to see how high I could climb. I finally made it to the meeting point where I found standing feet and views that took my breath away.
I never would have imagined ascending a climbing trail much like I would have never dreamed of being a photographer. And yet, here I am. I always welcomed discomfort. At this point, I'm understanding what it really means to be scared shitless. There are times that Jeff says he still gets scared when he's shooting on the side of the cliff. But, there's that one in a million opportunity to land a cover, and more importantly, test your limits to create new ones. So, if you don't feel discomfort, would the outcome be worth it?