We had the pleasure of meeting Claire in the summer of 2017 and the entire Neso team was immediately impressed by her. She was kind and soft-spoken, cute with youthful good looks, and smiled often. Claire’s physical presence was hardly that of a person who spends every moment of their free time gripping sandstone 1,000 feet off the ground.
When we first met Claire, she was saving money for what would be her most important rock climbing trip to date. She was 18 years old, fresh out of high school, and already accepted to CU Boulder for college. Claire deferred her entrance until 2019, with the plan to travel for a year around the Pacific Southwest climbing. When Claire told me this, I instantly became a fan as I had made similar decisions around that age with surfing. We brought Claire into the Neso family as an ambassador and have happily supported her journey ever since.
Claire started climbing when she was just 11 years old. She immediately fell in love with the sport and joined the kid’s team at her local indoor gym. Claire is the third generation of rock climbers in her family. Her mother and grandfather were both proficient climbers. Claire fell out of climbing for a few years, but then rekindled the passion as a teenager and began some outdoor climbing with her mom.
I caught up with Claire over the phone in February (halfway through her rock climbing gap year) to hear about her time both on the road and on towering rock faces. Claire began her journey by driving right to the source, Yosemite National Park, aka “The Valley.” Her mom had made this same journey in 1988. When she graduated from college she drove out to Yosemite and climbed for two years straight. Here is a picture of Claire and her mom climbing the same route 30 years apart...
Claire told me the climbing community is fairly tight-knit. During the off-season (non-summer months) scores of climbers flood Yosemite to enjoy some of the best climbing in the world. These climbers swing the long stints any way they can; they hitchhike, live out of cars (or custom vans), really anything that allows them more time with their hands on the stone. Claire made several friends in Yosemite who took her under their wing as they sped off to other destinations.
On the road with new friends, Claire traveled to Indian Creek in Utah. Indian Creek is a prominent climbing area in the Northern part of Bear’s Ears National Park. The area is famous for its sandstone crack climbing. Crack climbing is when a climber will follow a small crack all the way up a rock face, grabbing and inserting hands and feet into the crack to create leverage. Claire noted that a lot of people don’t climb there around December/January because of the cold. While in Utah, Claire also climbed a few desert towers, which are tall solitary faces of rock that resemble towers.
As some who is terrified of heights and therefore very curious about the attraction of this particular sport, I just had to ask Claire if she’d had any scary moments. She said the biggest fall she had taken this season was at a place called Lily Rock in Idyllwild, California. She placed a bad “cam.” Cams are the devices placed into cracks in the rock and connect to the rope being used. Cams are generally placed every 5-10 feet so the climber can only fall that far in the case of a misstep. On this particular climb, Claire slipped and had one cam pull out of the rock, causing her to fall about 30 feet. She was lucky to escape with only a minor foot injury. Claire told me one of her goals with this trip is to improve her “lead climbing.” This is when there are no ropes in front of you and you are placing the cams for people behind you.
I was curious about Claire’s state of mind during these climbs and this is what she had to say:
“When I’m leading it’s not just about physical strength, it’s more mental. You need to rest often and you need to be smart about placing your cams. Its better to place the cams at a safe resting spot rather than when you’re scared. My biggest goal right now is to keep fear at a safe distance, use it as a tool, but don’t get overwhelmed by it. I’m pushing my limits with leading and looking to do a big wall in Yosemite in the spring. This would involve an overnight climb and getting a night of sleep suspended by ropes.”
When Claire isn’t climbing, she’s resting her body, putting up her Neso Tent, enjoying the shade, and reading a good book. Right now she’s reading Just Kids by Patty Smith, a story about the music scene in New York during the 60’s and 70’s. She says that the Talking Heads are her favorite band and when she needs a good comfort movie, she watches The Shining. I’m a bit taken back by her choice of film, but I guess a horror film may not be as terrifying if you just spent the last 5 hours suspended a 1,000 feet above the ground.