Climbing: a quest toward a healthier lifestyle


Spencer Harsh

In July 2016, a couple of friends took me out to the Red River Ski Area in northern New Mexico for my first-ever day of outdoor climbing. Up until that day, I always had a fear of heights.

I watched my friends knock out a lead climb, which involves the climber “leading” the rope up the rock face and clipping it into pre-bolted anchor points along the way. They reached the top of this route, set up an anchor point at the top, and then before I knew I had thrown on borrowed climbing shoes, was tied onto the line and made my way up the wall.

I had never thought I would be on a climb. At one point as I was making my small ascent, I looked down at my friends, saw that they were now visibly smaller than my feet, and I began to panic. I thought, “Why am I up here? Humans shouldn’t be doing this at all.”

I completely froze in place. My legs shook and my arms tensed.

“You okay up there?” my friends shouted up at me. “Wanna come down?”

“No,” I yelled back.

After another brief pause, I looked straight up and moved a hand to the next good hold. Then I moved the appropriate foot, then another hand, another foot and so on and so on. Soon after, I found myself at the top of my first climb.

Before my belayer lowered me down, I sat back into my harness and looked around me. I could feel the cool breeze of oncoming New Mexico evening wash over me. The close horizon of pine trees and exposed rock of the mountains looked like something out of a dream.

That experience has always stuck with me. Ever since that moment that summer, I was hooked to the sport. I took any opportunity I could to go out and climb with friends.

When I came back to WKU for my sophomore year, I got word that an indoor climbing gym was set to open. Once they did, I found myself going at any spare moment, constantly training and trying to better myself.

Climbing is very much an individual sport. At the core of it, you are really only competing against yourself. While there is definitely a climbing community and there are certainly ways to compete against other climbers, most long-time climbers aren’t in the sport to be better than others. It’s all about personal achievement and goal setting.  

Climbing teaches you a lot about your body. I am continually learning my limits, both physically and mentally. You learn just how much you can contort yourself around a wall or how much trust you can place in your own hands as your feet dangle in the air. Or even how much trust you can place in your own feet as you hang upside down on a bouldering route.

It may sound sappy, but I believe that climbing has done a lot to improve my own health. Many online sources and experts say climbing for around an hour with few breaks can burn upwards of 500 calories, which is of course depending on intensity and other factors.

Climbing also improved my overall diet. The more I climbed, the more I wanted to improve my eating habits. I started taking out junk or unnecessary foods from my diet. I kicked smoking to make sure I can always breathe clearly when I am on the rope. Even my overall posture improved because of the muscle development throughout my back.

The reason that I wanted to rant to you about climbing and the experience is because it’s done a lot to improve several aspects of my life. To think that it was all because some friends randomly invited me to tag along one day during the summer makes it all the more special.

I encourage you to take up your friends’ next invitation into their weird hobby, or try out that new experience you’ve always wanted to look into. If you’re lucky and you play your cards right, you might just find that life-changing hobby.