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Naomi Guy: What I’ve Learned

44, Mum, Ex-Comp Climber, Boulderer, Tradster, Business Owner, Personal Assistant, British Ex-Pat in Boulder

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Photo by Keith Ladzinski
Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

Timing is everything, whether in snatching a small edge, efficiently stitching up a route, re-racking gear as I follow, watching the weather forecast, rushing from one client to another, catching the FedEx delivery truck, picking up my boss at the airport, getting the kids to school or meeting my climbing partner, who is also a single parent with a similar agenda. I only have a small window of opportunity these days. Cramming it all in is my style.

***

My friend and mentor Rob Parker gave me the best advice ever: “Avoid excess baggage of any kind.” He was an inspirational man who lived life to the fullest, a visionary who built Undercover Rock, one of the first route-climbing gyms in the U.K.

***

During my time at Undercover Rock as assistant manager, I worked with a group of convicted car thieves. The program was a police-funded get-out-of-crime card. They were arrogant, cocky youths, full of themselves until they were halfway up the wall. Seeing these kids scream encouragement at each other, watching them experience the thrill, I realized how lucky I was. Here was a cool alternative for them: climbing. I saw how much it helped them deal with their demons.

***

No one catches you when you fall. You are your own safety net. I took a huge fall from the top of Hollows Way (V8) on Flagstaff 10 years ago. I spiraled down, landed on all fours, whiplashed my head and split my lip. Despite the mob of strong lads spotting below, no one even touched me.

***

Big falls from boulders have worn out my knees and ankles. I am learning to be selective with what I climb to extend my time.

***

In climbing you are both caught and a catcher. The role of catcher is more important. My friend Ian got to the top of Wall of Sound at Stanage, only to find the slopers covered in ice. He hit the ground on rope stretch and walked away with only a bruised butt. Letting yourself be caught is hard to learn. Just stop assessing and climb on relentlessly and if the fear enters the mind, just embrace it and tell yourself the damage will be minimal.

***

I love climbing onsight. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. My most memorable onsight was Bloody Sunday (E4 6a) in Huntsmans Leap, Britain. It was damp, a committing and insecure experience, and a breakthrough at the grade for me. Onsighting goes beyond the rock, and it means having the strength and tenacity to plow through whatever life dumps in my lap. The most difficult onsight of my life was childbirth.  Not being able to see what was coming, the next move or where to recover made it a lengthy ordeal.

***

All good climbers are cyclical, like moon phases.  This rings true for women especially. The successes come in waves. You can’t peak all the time.

***

I take nothing for granted: climbing plans, unstable ground, the weather, friendships, jobs, health. I’ve learned in the last few years that I only have one body and it can’t really be re-conditioned.


This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 197 (October 2011).


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