How Taking a Break Saved My Climbing


Courtesy N. Hohn

It was the end of August when I realized something was very wrong.

Climbing wasn’t as fun as it used to be. All of this negativity had crept in. Every session ended with me mentally haranguing myself because I wasn’t strong enough or I wasn’t climbing hard enough. Life kept getting in the way and I took it as a sign that I wasn’t dedicated enough. Even when I managed to get to the gym, I couldn’t find the motivation to try hard, which led to a plateau, which led to more frustration. I started dreading climbing and even considered quitting altogether, which was an incredibly bad sign, considering the gym and the crag had been my happy places since I discovered climbing three years ago.

In short, I was burnt out.

So I decided to take a month off of climbing. In the grand scheme of things, a month is not a long time, but this is only something I realized later. At the outset of this plan, it felt like a huge deal to me.  I was so deeply programmed with this climb-or-die mentality that it was upsetting to even think about not climbing when there was no physical reason for me to stop.

However, in that month, a lot of things happened. I left my first full-time job and started a new, much more demanding one. My parents moved so that instead of being 4 hours away, they’re 9 hours away. My boyfriend started working on his college transfer applications.

I also realized a lot of things. I realized that I was spending way too much time at the gym. Between working and climbing for myself, I was there almost 7 days a week, on top of holding down my full-time job. This meant other aspects of my life were suffering – I could never catch up on chores, I hardly ever hung out with friends outside the gym, and there never seemed to be enough time to write as much as I wanted to.

I have a life outside of climbing and that’s okay.

I also realized that I had been feeling ashamed of this. I was letting myself by be bogged down by my own expectations. Most people in my climbing circle are focused on climbing hard trad and I started to feel like because that wasn’t my focus, I was somehow less. But the truth of the matter is you aren’t any less of a climber because you don’t enjoy trad. You aren’t any less of a climber because you don’t climb 5.12 (yet). You aren’t any less of a climber because you don’t aspire to live in a van. In reality, it’s just that my friends’ interests and goals are different than mine.

I started thinking back to when I first started climbing. I wasn’t concerned with grades or styles of climbing – I couldn’t climb much of anything, so I didn’t bother paying attention! I climbed things because they were fun, because trying was fun. I eventually became so results-driven that I lost sight of the fact that it was the process that was making me happy in the first place.

It’s still a work in progress, but since my hiatus, I’ve stopped treating climbing like a performance and more like a practice. I want to bring back that unconditional stoke that I had in my first year. While I still have climbing goals, I make it a point to climb things simply because I enjoy them, especially when I get frustrated – and it has been frustrating. I’m one of those people who loses conditioning very quickly, and getting shut down hard on routes I was able to crush a few weeks ago can be downright maddening.

But now when that happens, I don’t dwell on it as a failure and I do my best not to give in to my own pressure. I think of it as a step towards climbing even harder and getting to the level I want to be at. I think of all the cool, supportive people I get to spend time with. I think about the beautiful places climbing has taken me. I think about why I fell in love with this sport in the first place and somehow managed to fall in love with it all over again.

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