Turning Injury Into Motivation

This is a common case:

Athlete hits a plateau in their many years of climbing and tries to push through it by doing pretty much more of the same thing. First, an injury significantly decreases their climbing capacity, and they take a little bit of time off. After returning to climbing again, and doing the same thing as before without physical therapy, they begin to experience subsequent injuries as a result of muscle imbalance and compensation. This leads to a host of chronic issues, a very long time off the horse, and in this time, the athlete spends hours scouring blogs, articles, and YouTube channels to beef up on injury prevention. They train with a plan, using their downtime to raise motivation, and train intelligently to come back stronger.

This is me.

I was a talented, bull-headed youth competitor in California who was proud not to have a coach. In 2008, much to my surprise, I won the 2008 North American Climbing Championship in sport climbing ahead of Paige Claassen and Emily Harrington, placed 4th in my first Bouldering World Cup, and went to the World Games in Taiwan. I trained, sure – but without any research, just guesswork and experimentation with workouts and diets. In 2009, I wandered abroad in Europe and climbed 8a+ in France, felt good about myself, and in 2010 I left California to live in Colorado and train with the best. Everything was going generally well, with just a few injury hiccups here and there.

In spite of being a decently strong female climber, making all the right steps getting a job at a gym and dropping out of college (twice), I stopped progressing. I couldn’t keep up with the other ladies, and the barrier was becoming something different.

Mistakenly, I thought 10+ years of climbing had taught me pretty much everything about the physical side of training. Six years later, I was making the effort to break what I thought was a mental plateau through trad climbing, when instead I broke my ankle.

Learning about injuries, I realized the problem was definitely mental, but it wasn’t fear.
My plateau was out of ignorance.

They say things don’t leave us in life until they teach us all they know. I made all the classic mistakes with the ankle break, and the path to recovery became much longer and more painful than it should have been – I had a lot to learn from the great teacher Injury.

I ran, like I used to – the ankle hurt worse, the knee and hips couldn’t handle it.
I climbed, compensating with my shoulders – a rotator cuff got inflamed.
I continued pushing through – the other shoulder began to hurt.
I finally strengthened antagonists – and sent 3 V9s in the gym.

I started reading more voraciously.

When I moved from Colorado to Mexico, from US’s competitive climbing hub to a country where climbing training material was not nearly as abundant in Spanish, I felt like a fountain of information. Only then did I realize all my answers were based on anecdotal evidence rather than research about climbing training and injuries; they were also asking a lot of questions I’d never thought to ask myself.

Sure, I’d read Dave McLeod’s extensively detailed books, and taken some wisdom from blogs, but they were not concreted in my memory and I had no technical sports training. I couldn’t even tell you the pulleys in the fingers.

Only then did I realize how diverse and specialized were the parts to a long and successful training career, and how much information there is.

This is fairly late in the game, since I started climbing 17 years ago, but it’s never too late to start climbing smarter. I’m proud to say that a month ago I sent a 5.13b third try, close to the personal record of 5.13c and V10.

I’m going to share some of my training findings here.

Thanks all for listening to my story.

Train hard, and \m/ on.




The Move Mountains Tour

The Move Mountains Tour: An Adventurous Road Trip in Philanthropy

Sponsored by: Mad Rock Climbing, KAVU Clothing
Supported by: Maxim Ropes, NiteIze Inc,  Petzl

Tour Map

My mail goes to my parents in CA, and my cards and license are attached to a PO Box in Boulder, CO.

However, Mexico feels as much as a home base as Colorado and California.

When Climbing Borders started in 2014, I climbed with kids and helped with USA fundraising. Now the program is grown, and we’re climbing strong as a climbing team, and building the gym in a 3-year donated space from the government. Move Mountains Tour was to help open a highly mis-publicized and poorly understood Mexico to climbers and clarify the over-hyped risks posed to visitors.

– – – – – – – – – –

Long story short, The Move Mountains Tour was a sponsored 3 months of slideshows, collecting $10,000 in gear and funds while I bounced my Sprinter van “Wall-E” from state to state. Myself, sometimes with Rory and Ramon, who flew out to join me for large sections of the road trip, talked to groups at gyms about building at-risk youth climbing refuges as a model for incredible NGO programs in developing countries, like Climbing Borders in Mexico. In the Bay Area, Squamish, even with booths at the OR Show’s Reel Rock Premier and Psicocomp in SLC, we educated the public about volunteering/climbing in Mexico with our youth program. We inspired a lot of people to go to Mexico, and answered a lot of questions – mainly, do you feel it’s dangerous to go to Mexico? Yes, if you walk across the border in a “I Heart Donald Trump” t-shirt. Otherwise, no. Oakland, CA was far more sketchy.

It’s a long story. The Move Mountains Tour traveled from Santa Cruz, CA (my hometown) over 4,000 miles, up north to Squamish, west to Colorado, and south to Monterrey, Mexico. We held a dozen slideshows, presented to hundreds, and twice partnered with bigger fundraising events. UrbanAscent in Idaho donated 50% of proceeds in their competition Urban Legends, where Rory and I gave our first stage-fright-fueled speech on the gym’s counter with a microphone, and Matt Fultz competed and gave the crowd an unforgettable performance.


The second, in climbing bubble Boulder, CO, BEYONDTalks with Asa Firestone, Andrew Lenz of Brazil’s youth climbing project, myself as a director with CB/EF, and one of our program founders, Rory Smith which presented in Boulder, CO at Twisted Pine Brewing and unveiled a part of Three Peak’s then-unreleased film “Hecho en Mexico”. Christopher Weidner wrote a piece about it that published in the Daily Camera.

Daily Camera – Climbing Out of Poverty by Christpher Weidner

Move Mountains Tour north shore final

Success and Impact: We were unbelievably successful, I think mostly in part because we kept ourselves open to unexpected resources (another of saying that we were, basically, desperate). Also, gyms are transitioning to color-coordinated setting to save tape and cleaning out their old holds. At the second slideshow, we walked away with 300 good climbing holds from GWPC. In Seattle the SBP gym gave us hundreds of shoes in ten large bags.

On a Friday evening, when Valerie and I sat in the Redpoint Depot in Smith Rocks, we were given a lead on EntrePrise. “Wow, it’s just an hour away in Bend? Wait a minute.” I called them.”If you can get here in an hour, we’ve got some stuff for you.” I look at my climbing partner, Valerie, this small German girl enjoying a spontaneous vacation away from the tail end of an obscenely boring, unpaid internship in Vancouver. “Can we leave, like, right now?” I ask. We didn’t even put down her light-weight tent, just threw in in the back of Wall-E and booked it to Bend.


That day, on another hunch, we called Bend Rock Gym. It was as easy as, “Totally. We have two big bins for you.”

I was so excited that I broke the window shield with my spine while taking a photo of BRG’s donations.

The Move Mountain Tour had a massive outreach in the global climbing community.

I feel as if everyone’s heard about us somehow by now, because we tried to hit the key nerves of the community, from the OR Show, Psicocomp, Reel Rock, and our incredible Ambassadors. We thanked Renan and Honnold personally for their support (though they were as tired of socializing at OR as we were) and garnered a lot of information about fundraising and events for the next tour.

We reached over a thousand, face-to-face, taking into account the Craggin Classic and other events we crashed, unannounced and sometimes without paying. And the crags of course. We reached easily a hundred thousand through media like Chris’ write-up in the Daily, from gym events, sponsors, web pages, and the social media channels of all of the above in the US, Canada, and Mexico. We promoted ourselves and other youth projects, with a mission of youth outdoor education and stewardship. We increased interest and gave information on climbing tourism in Mexico.

We even connected with similar NGOs like The Boulders and Climb’n’Conquer in Vancouver to swap notes and share psych.
I managed to squeeze in Episode 44 with ChalkTalk’s John Blomquist (it was hard to follow up the Ep.43 w/ Alex Puccio) somewhere on the side of Highway 5 in Washington, south of Seattle, on my way to the Portland Boulder Rally, where I got to sit with half of America’s strongest and interview them for the Live Stream, and mention our program in Mexico.

When Ramon helped me drive it all across the border to Mexico through the town of Laredo, fresh from picking up donations at ClimbTech’s HQ in Austin, the sprinter set off the weight alarm, and so we opened the back to customs. They had a field day: here were hangboards, ropes, harnesses, jackets, massive bin on top of massive bin, all well over the max import donation value. We could have brought more holds and donations, crash pad flooring, more workout equipment. We should have had a trailer. Maybe next time.


– – – – – – – – –

So. Mexico. How did I get there? Here’s a longer explanation.

IMG_6918 copy

My first time in Mexico, I went on an initial scout with documenting-obsessed (typically British) climbing area developer named Gaz Leah, author of NY Bouldering Guide, who I had begged, pleaded, and coaxed into going with me for just a week, insisting that he needed to take a break from divorce problems and the NY grind. That week went well, he was stoked, but we weren’t able to meet with the youth project’s director, who was on vacation. I dropped him off in Austin to fly back to the big apple, and I considered going back south.

The suggested guidelines of travel in Mexico by the Mexican Embassy are: Don’t drive in the night. Don’t go alone. Don’t ask for directions.

I knew the second exploratory mission was a mess from the start. I had had a momentary panic attack in the McDonalds in Nuevo Laredo, just after crossing the border, when all the fears I had of Mexico ganged up on me – like how little money I had, that I’d forgotten to change for pesos at the border, and that I, really, had no idea what I was doing. Was this responsible? Was this the right choice?

After I got lost driving in the city well after nightfall, and asked strangers for directions, I thought – well, to hell with it. Just like the 6-month road trip I had come from, and everything else in my life at the time, visiting this project (and coming down a second time alone) was all on a whim. There was no serious plan here, so I may as well break all the rules and enjoy the fire-juggling happening at the intersection while I’m rapid-firing texting expensive messages to the US for directions.

But the full seriousness of the city’s problems, and the importance of this program, all struck home, all at once, on day one. Driving to the neighborhood, Nadia confirmed for me the corruption, the endless social and economic problems, including drug addiction. This was stuff I’d read about my whole life, as an unsocial introvert in a sheltered lifestyle in luxurious California. What would I see? As we walk up a dirt street, breeze block shacks on the sides, Nadia checks in on families like a social worker, asks about school, family members, and tells them I was a professional climber (which I could argue I wasn’t, but this obviously inspired the kids) and at last, my strongest memory. I bump fists with long-time drug addicts who are so far gone they look like zombies. (I still jokingly refer to them as zombies with the kids, though they are very often relatives of theirs.) The most profound element about the experience was seeing them actually in the vice of their addiction – they opening huffed paint thinner, like it was a cigarette, and we were in France. What. The. Fuck.

I had been intimidated by the concept of going south. Everyone – parents, friends, strangers – told me it was dangerous. They had seen headlines, heard horror stories about that one guy who was hacked to pieces. I was terrified at first to go to this Iran of the PanAm; I was white, a girl, broke, in an obvious van with ridiculous stickers, spoke piss-poor Spanish, in a van that didn’t even lock properly, with a just the bark of an excitable and harmless collie to protect it from marauders. But I know people are always afraid of things they don’t know enough about. So any threat of violence to myself was not actually scary. Isolated areas of poverty where harmful drug abuse was socially acceptable because education and development were blunted by a lack of resources – that was scary. The fact that it can happen, that you can grow up being that kid who is stunted emotionally and physically because of violence, neglect, and malnutrition.

The following 6 months after finishing the whimful roadtrip, I scrapped up money in the used gear store in Boulder (Boulder Sports Recycler) and slept in my van in the parking lot, emailing sponsors and planning to go back for four months, and use my van to help the program.

I thought the idea was crazy, and up in the air, until the day we left. I was broke still, paying to fix my van, and just three months before launch date I broke my ankle with a large flake on Rainbow Highway, on which we enjoyed a pleasant  3-mile hobble out in a thunderstorm, fortunately with the ever-ready, amazing, now YOSAR-employed Helen Sinclair.

That four month stint in Mexico turned into almost a year because I picked up teaching English. In case you’re wondering, no, I have never taken a teaching course. However, it paid 50% better than the intensely knowledgeable position at the used gear store in Colorado, and pretty much required no special academic expertise aside from making conversation about whatever (politics, religion, life, NPR articles, etc). As a plus, the moped commute between classes on Mexican highways was far more exciting than sitting behind the counter answering questions about the difference between water-proof and water-resistant TNF Mountain Series jackets.

(If you’re interested in working in the large city next to four major climbing areas, including Potrero Chico and El Salto, and speak English natively, just ask.)

I established a base in Mexico, and decided to do the reverse in 2015. I’d go to the States (which weirdly now felt like “abroad”) for 4 months to do a road trip and fundraising tour.

– – – – – – – – –

THE MOVE MOUNTAINS TOUR: Organizing a 3-Month, 4,000-Mile Tour To Raise $10,000 In Gear

Why Move Mountains Tour? Well, I thought naïvely that I could easily combine the original impulsive dirtbag climbing road trip of North America with a philanthropic slideshow tour. I could use the same sponsors who promoted my climbing to now promote a climbing project, climbing a shit ton between presentations, and teach clinics to stay afloat. I’d start in Santa Cruz, CA where I grew up, go north to Squamish (because it’s Squamish) and hit Idaho and Utah on the way to the finale in Colorado. I was broke, and I was terrified of speaking. But forgetting all that…

Although ‘staying afloat’ and ‘climbing a shit ton’ is the dirtbag way, it was far from smooth sailing. Because I planned the events up the West Coast and out to Colorado so they were spread out in major cities with a few days in between, the trip offered very clear, inflexible deadlines. It was stressful to plan public speaking when I have severa stage fright, but I was also irresponsibly broke, and halfway through was obliged to sell my beloved Canon, which I’d bought half a decade ago. parting with my camera was necessary, though, to take advantage of detours to learn from NGOs similar to Climbing Borders.

One example is The Boulders on Vancouver Island, an UNbelievably successful (and possibly the only) not-for-profit climbing gym in North America. I’d only planned to visit the Climb And Conquer Project in the Vancouver on shore, for which I am an Ambassador, and I didn’t know The Boulders existed until a few days before leaving Canada, via the Climbing Business Journal. My college student Chase Bank account could barely handle the $12 overnight Park-and-Go fee at the Tsawwassen ferry port, so I cut the visit very short – 24 hours – and asked every goddamn question I could think of. My gracious and hospitable host, Kimanda Jarzebiak, founder, answered everything she could in a surprisingly transparent way. I sent all my notes in a document to the other directors, and it was an incredible resource. Well worth the last $20. I felt, at the time, that it even validated the whole Tour to see an NGO so focused, organized, successful. Here was a 3 million dollar gym, a model we could look up to, in a town with a population of 16,000 when our city has 1.4 million. The Boulders was physical proof that the sky was possible in the realm of NGO climbing gyms.

I also spent a lot of time on my computer doing emails for Mad Rock, interviews, and organizing slideshows, instead of actually climbing. Another 150+ of those hours was driving.

– – – – – – – – – –

Psicocomp & Reel Rock in Salt Lake City, UT
Before starting the trip, I flew straight from Mexico to Los Angeles, and sat for 3 weeks in the offices of my employer Mad Rock Climbing. For me, office work in a chair and cubicle sounds like living hell. I have nightmares of sitting in a cubicle that go back as far as first grade – though I have no idea why. Mad Rock headquarters, however, was not so bad, I know and understand the crew, and simply I slaved away to pay the over-worked credit card, bagging my first online-published interview on Rock&Ice for Mad Rock athlete Jesse Grupper, and creating a more enabled level of the Team for dedicated athletes much like myself (but far cooler) to pursue their dreams.

The three weeks finished in a fantastic blur of motion, with an incredible successful outdoor brands convention (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market) for both Mad Rock and the sponsorship of the Move Mountains Tour.

Ramon flew in to help with Climbing Borders, so after my allotted time at the MR booth, at 12pm we speed-walked to sponsors for the Tour and gave the shpeal. It went something like, “Our youth project in Mexico is Climbing Borders, we’re doing a 7-state slideshow tour at major climbing gyms and need gear raffle sponsors. Here’s the website, our email. We have a booth at Reel Rock and Psicocomp. Who do we talk to/ What can you give?” Friends introduced us to new connections, and we wrote emails on our hands. If we managed to talk to the marketing or sponsoring director, they always said yes.

Yes, we had a booth at Reel Rock’s premier in SLC and the Psicobloc Masters deep-water-soloing competition.

The Move Mountain Tour sponsors we collected in SLC are mostly brands I already know and work with. Mad Rock Climbing, of course, they had readily donated very essential gear for the program, mostly adjustable rental harnesses and shoes. Rob from Maxim Ropes promised giveaway ropes, the main lure to the Move Mountain Tour’s fundraising gear raffles. The up-beat brand KAVU said, “No problem, we’ll send a big box of stuff”.  Julianne from Voltaic Systems, our friend Matt from NiteIze, and even Petzl threw in.


“Can I stay at your house?”

My average day volunteering with a badass project, climbing with kids in marginalized areas. See more: http://www.escalandofronteras.org

“Can I stay at your house?”
“No, you have a mom and brother.”
“I don’t live with them.”
“Where do you sleep?”
“Behind the school. Can you give me 5 pesos for some water?” the fifteen year old runaway asked me today.

Holy shit.

One of those moments when you’re not sure if they’re telling the truth, and how seriously to take them. The other day a teenage runaway texted us “I’m going to be a dad” – and our hearts skip a beat, or three.  Then they say something that really takes the wind out of you, like, “I wanna go to Harvard.” And it’s a fucking sharp kid.

Sometimes when they aren’t yanking our chain, we glimpse the real truth behind the practiced levity. That glimpse has been visiting more and more often, in that way a photographer picks up on a pattern or style. I think it comes from seeing these kids actually entering serious, dangerous, high-risk situations, while seeing their futures standing next to them – I mean, ugly situations, ugly future selves. Like, I had to drop off the kids tonight 50 feet from the school steps, where a group of 20 addicts and a dealer chill…and watch these kids run over to them.

What would a normal parent do in the States? Let me answer. Totally not what we have to do: drop them off, the same way, every day we work with them. How the hell can we do that?

For Mel’s water I up-ended the coin purse and, in the process, accidentally dropped and lost a coin. All I had was 7 pesos, not enough for papitas.

“Why are you eating a lollipop? That your dinner?” “It’s bad for the teeth.” “So why are you eating it?” Mel crunched it down, threw the stick in my van.

Here’s the ugly future I saw of Melanie, that morning. When I arrived in Lomas to pick up the boys to go to the closest climbing gym, the first stop was Cesar’s house. He’s a young dad who acts like he’s 16, and takes a shitload of hilarious selfies every time you give him a camera. Hola! I shout on the steps, walking up slowly, while listening for his wife Heidy. I get to the door, and it’s opened by an old woman. She invites me in. Me llamo mama de Cesar, she says. Heidy and Cesar left to buy groceries. So we sit at the window, waiting for the young climbers. Cesar’s mother asked me if I was the one who gave Heidy the computer, if I was the one giving her graphic design homework. I replied yes. She said her younger daughter needed to learn English. (Education is a sore need here. We focus on rock climbing, and use it to connect to the younger population, but occasionally Nadia and I tutor.)

I’d taught English in the community room months back, and wanted to do the same again, so I began talking with Cesar’s mom about the new school director, the families, how she raises kids, the drug situation…

Mira, she said suddenly, pointing. She was looking a young woman hobbling slowly past the window outside. Clearly in her second term of pregnancy. Holding paint thinner to her face.

Pregnant, Cesar’s mom said. And she has 3 kids already. She’s a prostitute.

– – – – –

Side Note: If you grew up here, you’d kick dogs. You’d huff paint thinner like skittles in broad daylight, and get pregnant at 15. You’ll end up like this drugged prostitute. And your sons will have to depend on their aging illiterate and decrepit elderly; will watch while the mom whither away; will continue the cycle of neglect.

– – – – –

“A que hora tienes escuela?” I ask the 15 year old runaway, having seen her future some hours before. “When is school for you? At 6, too?”

“No voy,” she says sheepishly. “Me aburró la escuela.” School bores me.
She’s 15. She disappeared once for a month one time. She’s basically run away from home, and not the first. When she asked me my birthday, she showed me on her phone the sex position for my birth month. Like that time, I hound her. How are you going to have a job, if you don’t learn anything? “Tortillas”, she says.

“Tortillas?!” I reply horrified. You want to walk up and down the street all day without money to pay for the hospital, for a car, for your health? You’ll be stuck in a cycle. It’s a stupid cycle. But she’s already bored. She gets in my van, and looks for coins, finds a lighter, and plays with it.

“Want to study tomorrow, 12pm? Computer lab?” I see so much potential here. She is absolutely a disaster waiting to happen, if she doesn’t study. Other girls come up to us, and ask to climb tomorrow. I say yes, Mad Complex. Two groups, 2pm and 6pm. Life is real. Let’s just go climbing.

The Struggle Unplugging

It’s so hard for me to unplug. I’ve just received new emails, the coffee is only half-finished, and my friends are just signing onto Facebook, liking my Instagram photo, and sharing a new viral video about two guinea pigs eating a blade of grass Lady-And-The-Tramp style…in slow motion. I can sign off at any moment, but the red notification numbers in the upper right corner have become a simple game of Whack-a-Mole, and the world’s population is awake in every time zone, which gives us a reason to stay plugged in.

Yikes. At some point, I must use my legs, stretch, look at something 20 feet away to adjust my eyes to avoid a headache, drink water to resupply the empty reservoir of my stomach that was so quickly drained by caffeine 5 hours ago when I signed onto my work email. Even though I work online in a mobile job, I sit all the time.

I’ve begun to realize how addicted to being plugged in that I’ve become. How is that possible? I moved into my van to escape the grid! Sure, a job that requires 3 hours a day online still requires wi-fi, a bathroom, and some focused productivity on the keyboard, but to a life that is largely alternative – that is to say, I’m living in a van with a job that has no fixed hours, so I could field a Skype meeting in the middle of a World Word II re-enactment event unbeknownst to the caller, and let the booming of canons and gun fire be background music to my follow-up emails – it’s not easy to escape the convenience of staying in the city: I can shower early mornings in the restroom of a Starbucks, work to 4pm, then park and read a book just a Justin’s Nut Butter jar’s throw of the nearest Whole Foods, in case I feel the urge to nip in for the salad bar.

Here’s some things I find useful for stepping away from the devices.

1: Work standing up. Most cafes, especially Starbucks, have counters and I’ve begun choosing to push aside one of the high chairs in favor of standing.

2: Use the 20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, focus on something 20 feet away, even just to break out of the tunnel vision one acquires from working on a computer long hours.

3: Snack all the veggies. Controversial foodie opinions aside, stuffing your face with red bell peppers, kale, spinach, carrots or a salad over the course of the work period keeps me healthy, and negates bonking and hunger.

4: Solar panels rock. I can park and work in my van, and even if you don’t live on the road in a Sprinter can like myself, charging from my dashboard is useful for my phone.

That’s all, just some thoughts on recent habit’s I’ve made consciously to keep myself in shape while I’m on the road for the Move Mountains Tour. Thanks Voltaic Systems for keeping me powered!


Vancouver! Victoria! Squamish!!!

So stoked to be on the road in Canada.

I’m in Vancouver, about to check out the Boulders Climbing Gym in Victoria, a non-profit gym JUST LIKE what we were imagining in Monterrey, Mexico!

If you haven’t seen it, check out the Move Mountains Tour website I am slaving over these days. You can also win a MAXIM ROPE while we tour the country: just share an event or tour map, with the hashtag #MoveMountainsTour. We’re three shows in, and had successful slideshows in Santa Cruz, Oakland, and Portland! The BIGGEST sponsors Mad Rock Climbing and Kavu have given away chalk pots, sport climbing gear, and clothing at each event, along with two ropes from Petzl, headlamps and S-biners from Nite Ize, and more.

Tour Map

Interview: Revista Escalando

Recently Revista Escalando (Climbing Magazine in Spanish) did an interview with me about combining a traveling, professional climbing career with work for philanthropic programs like Escalando Fronteras.

Thank you so much, Camilo Castellanos and Revista Escalando! And thank you sponsors for supporting my passion in various ways, everywhere I go! Mad Rock Climbing, Kavu, GSI Outdoors, and Maxim Ropes.

Read the interview on Escalando.Org

English version below.

escalando org interview

Revista Escalando  – Escalando.org
Climbing with Tiffany Hensley

By Camilo Castellanos

For 6 months, this North American climber traveled together with her dog Tashtego to run through 30 states of the United States and more than 20 climbing areas, in a style of a simple life that gave her various life lessons. 

Hensley, like few climbers, has mixed hard competition training with a life of globetrotting. “Since I began climbing, at the age of 7, my life was balanced by the liberation of climbing and the weighted richness of learning. When the two sides are fully grown, they are dangling on each end of the stick I hold while walking the tight line above the world…”

What do you like about competition climbing?

Dedication. Since 1998, competing has taught me to dedicate myself, and has also taught me that we are all strongest when we share dedication with others, even our competitors. I believe this is the best way to channel our motivation, break our own boundaries, and push our own limits. 2. Which kind of climbing do you like the most? When I am completely in the flow of the movement, like when I think of nothing but the movement and the sequence. This a hard place to get to, and it feels like mediation, because climbing can compress the focus into a single focus on a single hard move, but as I explore the sport it seems to expand outward like the series of photos from the quark to the universe. I find bigger perspectives as I find bigger and bigger projects, ones that include more than climbing, but also people.

You went on a project and lived in your van for some months, how was that experience?

Incredible. It’s really hard to understand the vanlife if one’s never lived in a tiny space before. It feels like the world grows much bigger, because you spend so much more time outside your own “controlled space” and comfort zone. Traveling also really opens the mind to a perspective full of new possibilities and new resources, because it’s always solving small problems on the fly – and making decisions about what fits in your life. Also, to travel and see the difference organizations make in widely diverse cities, with entirely different cultures – like Canada and Mexico – opened my eyes to universal truths about community power and individual empowerment.

Which type of training do you think is the best for competition climbing?

The best training for competition climbing is found in The Circuit World Cup and Performance Magazine. If you haven’t looked at it, or heard about it, and you want to train for competitions, this has interviews with world cup competitors about the best way to train. In general, competition training is all-around training that works on your weaknesses. I have to train core and body tension, because I grew up climbing gymnastically and dynamically. And in general, the best thing to train are first, your finger strength, second, your shoulders and back, and third, your core. Bringing this all together with body tension and flexibility is a great start, if you are training to compete stronger. One last ingredient is the mind – as Fernanda Rodriguez, a climber in Mexico, says, “The only muscle you can always discipline, anywhere, anytime, is your mind.” And this is true – Eric Horst even says mentality is 30% of climbing.

How did you started climbing?

I start in a climbing gym when I was seven at a birthday part with other 1st graders. I didn’t want to leave the first day, and my mom obliged to bring me back the next day, and the next…until I went with friends, then got my own car.

What projects do you have now?

My projects recently have changed from short-term goals to long-term ones, mostly because school, injuries, and occupations. In August I broke my ankle, and 7 months later I’m learning to find meaningful life projects to substitute those hard grades. Currently I work a lot, because I love working for Mad Rock Climbing in the climbing industry, and when I’m not on a roadtrip or traveling, I hold a second job to pay the bills and save for the next big roadtrip. But my biggest project right now is Escalando Fronteras, working with a team that helps at-risk youth to grow a sustainable supportive community in the rough neighborhoods, beginning with Mexico. Although I’m training to come back to the World Cups one day, this is a project that means just as much to me, and part of the project is to bring some of those kids to competitive extreme sports, like rock climbing.

How have you seen the development of feminine climbing?

Women are closing the gap in climbing. There will always be the hard line between the basic anatomical differences, and we would not be women if we did not have our unique hormonal, behavioral and biological signature. But as rock climbing has as many styles and many disciplines as running, there are many chances for the development of feminine climbing to excel, primarily in endurance, the mental game, and perhaps just in my personal opinion, a certain beauty of style.

What do you think is the most important thing about traveling and climbing?

The education. Education is not a textbook, education is seeing and believing, living and experiencing, exploring with the hands and eating with the eyes. Climbing brings us traveling, and has the opposite extremes of a yen for the untouched and the competitive craze of the controlled urban closeness. I believe there are many sports in which we can explore the different disciplines and remain sheltered. Climbing is absolutely not one of them. Climbing gives us self-awareness, and traveling opens us to world mindedness.

Climbing Borders
How is working as a volunteer in Climbing Borders?

Working as a volunteer is a very genuine, life-changing experience; like workers in the “Banker to the Poor”, the local director Dr. Nadia Vazquez walked us through the neighborhoods on our first visit in order to see the world from the perspective of the kids. Genuinely hanging out with these kids brings volunteers into their world, their emotional turbulence, their frustration. Then makes me wholly aware of yourself and what you know or don’t know. The kids are always motivated to do something, and keep us on our toes.

What do you think is the most important thing of working with those kids?

For me, I see the most important thing is just being there, a mentor. It doesn’t matter who we are, or where we go – we could be skateboarders, or runners, or bikers – just that we are there for them. We talk, we listen, we guide them, and we’re there to offer a different perspective of the world so they can see outside their influences.

Do you think the project has saved those kids from involving with drug cartels?

There’s no doubt Escalando Fronteras makes a difference with the kids every time they go outside. From the first visit to the second, their behavior changes; their physical awareness grows; their attitude towards the mentors is tiny bit more open. I’ve taught climbing for 8 years to kids, adults, beginners, competitive athletes, and learned myself as a student from amazing teachers, and every climbing session builds character, strength, and self-awareness, because climbing is a channel for recreation, problem-solving, and self-expression. Even if there is no teacher in the room, the student needs to learn independently by adapting for each move, each problem, each style.

Which aspects of climbing do you think help the most to develop personal abilities?

Adaptation and self-awareness. Climbing helps them realize they can change, that the world can change, and that they can change with it by learning about themselves.

Do you think this program could be done in other countries?

Easily, I visited a program like it in Vancouver, Canada that worked particularly well, called Climb’N’Conquer, and was well directed by a community leader named Joseph Smith. With the use of any facility, even the outdoors (such as with CEU, Centro for Escalad Urbana in Brasil) anyone can be introduced to the sport, even once, and changed by the physical challenge, the community feel, and an unforgettable perspective of the world from above.

Which is the importance that famous climbers participate as volunteers?

The message: Don’t ever give up. Here’s proof you can be what you dream.

Famous athletes are only a part of the program, because volunteers are the labor of the operation and resources from donors keep the program working like a philanthropic machine. In fact, everyone who participates lends something of themselves to the mission, which is an incredibly selfless and thoroughly laudable.

The part about famous climbers in particular is that they are examples of dedication, they are heroes, they are role models. We follow their steps in our dreams; our heroes are who we think about when we are pushing our hardest. When we need inspiration, when we are starting to fail, we think of what our idols would do in that situation. My inspiration was Chris Sharma, and seeing him in my home gym regularly gave me an example to follow, which was that someone from a small town gym, a kid like me, could be the best in the world. A young snowboarder has a poster of Shaun White, a skateboarder of Tony Hawk, etc, and climbing has those same names for the growing climbing community that is reaching developing, rough and closed-off places.

Pro Climbers International was founded on this basis, that achieved athletes can impact and inspire those on their way simply by appearing in person – and it works. If a kids hears about someone being amazing, and they meet them, it’s a lifetime experience. It’s unforgettable, so it’s worth a lifetime of inspiration. And that moment stays with the kids whenever they feel tested.

The See-Saw

There are times in our lives when we are expanding the fastest, learning from our environment as quickly we can humanly imbibe these experiences and forging our path through the unknown of the future. In that endless moment, we don’t hold expectations, knowing that nothing is for certain, and we are small in this world.

This flow state is a balance, many factors in many sizes that counter and compliment one another, too many to count. We juggle these factors by tossing them in the air, some remaining in the air far longer than others and changing invisibly, while we catch and toss again those balls that came back to us. These factors may be focused to a balance of art and logic, business and pleasure, the taste of sweet and sour, in the simplicity of black and white.

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Since I began climbing, at the age of 7, my life was balanced by the liberation of climbing and the weighted richness of learning. When the two sides are fully grown, dangling on each end of the stick I hold while walking the tight line above the world, I feel the flow: the liberation and richness in balance high on an independent point somewhere.

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Here in Mexico I feel those sides balancing again. Almost every year there is moment where I feel light and full at once, with that liberation and richness, and as I sit high and see far from the elevated tip of the see-saw, the world becomes clear for a moment.

Praying to the wind.

Then the see-saw dips to the other side of the fulcrum. For the last 8 months, my ankle has been that fulcrum. My body impacts my mentality more strongly, sometimes, than my mind can impact my body. This is a strong connection athletes feel, grandly unique to people in a stage of a sedentary lifestyle.

When I feel pain, depression laps at the little island of my conscious and awareness dims like the screen on a cell phone, so after a long adventurous day of taking photos and moving non-stop, this ache pulls me from my mind into a cave that I can also explore, but in which I sometimes am lost.


As I become more familiar with this system of caves in the darkness, life becomes easier, and I learn to follow the fresh breeze back to the entrance where my friend self-awareness sits waiting on the other end of the see-saw.

Day with Paragliders

Praying to the wind.
Praying to the wind.

Today had a theme of discipline and caution.
Diego, Argentinian.

Diego, Argentinian.

I tagged along with Fer and Carlos to photograph their paragliding group in the pueblito Rinconada, west of Monterrey. Every launch held some suspense, and the Argentinian named Diego flipped up high and lost his helmet with a GoPro. I counted the seconds as the helmet dropped: almost twenty.

Check out the photos!

portrait old woman

The Fiercest Worrier

When I saw her, her face opined a view on the world,

As if on waking,
Was printed every morning at four am with lines of tiredness,
Blackened by the raise of a son.

At five, I see her stand on display,
Waiting for the commute train,
Her single headline furrowed
Above a flaring column from her temple,

At noon, the Business Section sniffs
The good taco stand gazpacho.

Dusk, the Obituary section crumples up
And soaks in relief in a hot pool of tears.

Ink runs south to her family in Mexico City
On two familiar railroad tracks across the bronze hilly desert.



“Van, Life, Food: Vantarian Eating on a Roll”

I have a project I’m working on, a tiny book about Vantarian eating for climbers (or really, anyone) traveling on the road and living in a house on wheels.

vantarian eating on a roll

“Van, Life, Food: Vantarian Eating on a Roll” will be vanlife-sized, with a number of crafty and quick recipes from simple hors d’van to vegvantarian scrambles.

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The recipes will be contributed by more well-known #vanlife climbers who are currently or have spent a lot of time living on the road. So far 20 contributors have suggested awesome submissions, from the snap combination of Funyuns’N’Beer, a quick Seasoned Salmon from Paul Nadler, and fridge-free recipes from Dean Fleming, and a secret recipe from Jason Kehl.

Illustrations will be paired with the recipes, so each recipe has one small sketch of the contributor’s dish, visage, or home on wheels. If an illustration is not contributed, it will be sketched by the tiny cookbook’s illustrator, Clara Lopes.


Clara Lopes’ artwork on Instagram: http://instagramshare.com/UserDetails/26985853

Hopefully it prints before OR Show!

Anyway, just an update. Cheers all!


Moving to Mexico

In 2013, with the help of sponsors GSI Outdoors, Mad Rock Climbing, and KAVU, I ditched a townhouse to live in a van on a six-month road trip around North America. The 2005 Dodge Sprinter was unconverted, so I slept for most of that time on boxes, and on cold days curled up with my border collie. In March, we came across Monterrey, Mexico…and now a year later and four months deep into a visa, I’ve found myself moving in, sharing rent and getting a work permit.

How did this happen? Why would someone from the USA move to MTY?

“Sometimes life is like a movie.” This comes to mind a lot lately, with all the serendipitous and incredible experiences I’ve had these past four months, working with unbelievably inspirational people. It’s actually a quote from Mr. P, a substitute economics teacher I had in high school who could beat-box and speak arabic, who also dropped this sentence on his teenage economics students as through the square classroom window they watched a new classmate with Turrets run around the yard hurling insults at bewildered teachers and karate chopping a small planted tree. Yes, I realized from then on… If you can take a step back and see life through a screen, or a window, life is just like like a movie: just as tragic, just as hilarious, and just as profoundly unbelievable.

What happened is that I found something unbelievable in Mexico, and it wasn’t the addicts and beggars, as one might think. Nope, all major cities – the US too, of course – have problems with poverty, and even worse, governmental neglect. What I found past the hovels without roofs and shantytowns hidden by flashy billboards, the thing that was unbelievable, was the people working to actually change these situations. A team was coming together as an organization and talking directly to sharp and restless youth in the tightly-knit, drug-laden neighborhoods. They were taking them climbing to give them a different kind of ‘high’.

In Monterrey, as other places, the doors are always open to situations we often hear about in the news, in books, and in movies…but through affluence or ignorance, we barricade ourselves inside invisible walls to stay blind to these discrepancies, feeling ourselves victims for witnessing the suffering because the sight is so painful to see.

Much as my step father refuses to admit they did anything useful, the months of traveling after high school opened my eyes to the invisible walls, the barricade; left me realizing how little I knew, and young I was; instilled in me a growing indignation at ignorance and suffering. When I was 14, and left the country for the first time, I saw how a child that grows up in urban Beijing thinks nothing of walking past beggars with feet swathed in cling wrap to display tuberculosis. They saw the beggar everyday; whereas I and my mother were shocked into mutual silence. At the time, I thought ignoring the woman was another form of maturity, an acceptance to what life brings, or God decrees, or whatever…

But each day, even to the present day, I grew more certain this was wrong to do and that unacceptably, undoubtedly, somewhere else in the world there was a solution for this woman – and also for the man without legs beside her, the old hag forcefully grabbing half-empty drinks from tourist’s hands, and the child without empathy; somewhere there was doctor willing to do a surgery, a therapy, a prosthetic to solve any problem…and education to cultivate those solutions.

I believe the biggest problem is the invidious belief that you can do nothing. That is the very worst fallacy of human nature. That last day before we left, I gave the man without legs the last of my trip money, and I hope I never grow up.


A Monster Named Denial

Sinking deeper and deeper into that familiar feeling of crazy depression, my ankle felt almost worse.

For four months, I haven’t been able to climb without pain, and climbing is my very simple world. Am I losing grip on my 17-year-old passion, slowly and involuntarily? Is this the end? Should I finish up that business degree, take up art, and make strides toward my dream to open a climber cafe in a spanish-speaking country near a climbing area?

Quickly after getting back on track, I realized how my own denial had caused me to make serious mistakes.

Mistake One: The Adjustment Bureau

Denial took it’s first tottering baby step a few week after surgery, during a visit to the physical therapist. When I asked “How long until I can go for a run?” and the doctor’s answer was “Ah, well…” – I blinked, and my heart skipped a beat (already, denial was causing arrhythmia). The doctor continued: “Don’t even think about running until after 6 months. For now, try the stretches first, then maybe walking…then maybe swimming…” (Swimming? Was that hard?) “…and work your way up.” He was right, of course. Try getting the bike not to wobble, then you can think about the Tour de France. That next week, I was climbing and stepping for the first time on the spin bike. Alone, I pumped on the pedals and refused to stop pedaling, reading Climbing to pass a solid hour. If I’d told a friend to help me slow down, they might have seen how silly I was pushing so hard in a cast. And this was the problem: I should brought in all my friends to help me stay on track. Like an ‘adjustment bureau’.

Mistake Two: No Sleep ‘Til PT

I had three sessions of P.T. in the US before traveling abroad, and the trip couldn’t wait. My goals in Mexico included hiking for days with a heavy pack, jumarring camera equipment up trad lines, doing my first big walls, maybe even climbing a 5.14. When they set the second cast, I was ready to train again. Still on crutches, watching my boyfriend train while I couch potato-ed, reading possessed me. Training for the New Alpinism, Marathon Training for Beginners…these books and others spurned my soul to fly off to the start line and juggle dumbbells. How was I going to deal?

The problem was, I didn’t. I was helping myself prepare for the future, but not for the present. Week two, still in the cast, I was heel hooking on .12c and began making hour-long sprints on spin bikes, turning up the resistance as the ache in the Taylor fracture was overpowered by my addiction to endorphins.

Mistake Three: “Well…poopsicles.”

After arriving in Mexico for our four month project, I began holding the camera like a teddy bear in my arms, changing focus from my climbing to other things: drawing the mountains of the Mexican national park La Huasteca, drawing the streets, shooting video of the at-risk program, and aiming a naked lens at everything I see. So desperate to keep myself still one morning, I knitted a ridiculous small blanket while the boys made a go at Sendero Luminoso. But this was not the problem – knitting only gives me minor carpel tunnel and a tendon ache. The problem was that, however much I wanted to obsess and progress on climbing projects, I could not, and could not let go. (This had happened once before, after winning two micro-fractured heels from a fall onto concrete.) After a while, frustration set in, like an unwelcome roommate to the already cluttered space of my mind. Also settling into the upstairs was resignation, quick to step in when frustration took a break. So that between trips outdoors and time with the roommates, I felt sadness, homesickness, and disappointment. That wasn’t working either, surprisingly.

Then, the heavens sparkled and, suddenly, unicorns existed.

A friend offered to bring me to a physical therapy clinic, where she was rehabilitating a knee injury. I made the decision to drive with her that morning to Clínica Everest (aptly named), over a very appealing job opportunity teaching English. In the office, my friend pointed to my sneaker. “Look at how she’s walking.” It was dented to the left, as if Patagonia had integrated a gangster lean into the lefts of their athletic shoe line.

I was very surprised when the doctor offered two months of physical therapy. Though I walked like Captain Ahab (I do tend to have his tunnel vision, too) still, at the offer of two months, I thought “Well, is it that bad?” Clearly, denial was strong in this one.

So big thank you, Clínica Everest.

I’m thankful that visiting this PT clinic with a friend woke me up to the realization that I was straggling. We are always finding ourselves in ruts, and always find out ways out through the offers of kind people.

With the time remaining in Mexico, I hope to recovery enough to climb more of the beautiful routes in La Huasteca and continue going out with the kids on our trips. Maybe even send 5.13?

So if you are injured before a long trip to La Huasteca, El Salto, or Potrero and may need PT, visit Clínica Everest.
On The Facebooks: https://www.facebook.com/ClinicaEverest?rf=439585619389981


We are finding incredible people with enormous compassion who want to help Escalando Fronteras! If you’re reading this an want to help, we can always use more connections and donations. Contact us at escalandofronteras.org