By: Lindsey Marshall

Five individuals of all ages journey into the great Laurel Highlands to challenge their limits and to experience all that nature has to offer. Sounds like a setup for the perfect action movie, right? Sure, but I should rewind just a bit. Let’s go back to the previous week.

As a Venture Outdoors Intern, I was asked what kind of outdoor trip I wanted to experience. After searching through the calendar, one stuck out to me. I knew it’d be scary and difficult, but I wanted to go and challenge myself.
I went home that evening, overjoyed with excitement and told my family the news. Instead of being met with encouragement, I was met with a roar of laughter. As daring as I may be, heights were my weakness, and my family knew this. Yes, I could go into the many very “traumatic” incidents of me being afraid of heights. One example was when 19-year-old me cried on the Swing Shot at Kennywood, but I’ll spare myself the embarrassment of the other stories. Regardless of what my family thought, I knew I had to go and overcome my fears.

Okay, let’s fast forward to the morning of the “big day”. I was so ready, I went to bed early, wore all the essential clothes, and had snacks. I even did my research and read every blog and information page, so basically, I was a pro at this point. However, the realness of what I was about to do didn’t exactly hit me until halfway through the drive. My mind quickly went to every worse possible scenario and now I was nervous. What If I die? Should I call my family and say my goodbyes? Oh my gosh, I don’t even have a will written! I tried to calm down by playing my absolute favorite song, “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus, but even my girl Miley didn’t help.

I pull into the lot and see the four other individuals already there. I get out and say my name and that I’m a Venture Outdoors Representative for this trip. We start talking about how much experience we all have. Three of the five have been doing this for a while and the fourth was decently experienced. Then they asked me…the moment of truth…or a white lie. I didn’t want to feel like a rookie, so I said I’ve gone to places before, just not in Laurel Highlands. For the record, this was theoretically true.

After all the introductions and white lies were done, we got into our cars and drove to another parking lot outside of Laurel Highlands. Once we arrived Fred, our leader, started going over safety information and details. After everything was said and done, we grabbed all the equipment and hiked to the first area.

It was time to gear up. We fitted our shoes, adjusted our helmets, tightened our harness, knotted our figure eights, and clipped on our belay. The moment of truth. Would I shy I away from fear or face it head on?

On belay? Belay on. Climbing? Climb on. This was it. I nestled my foot into one pocket of the rock, my other foot in another pocket. My hands were searching, reaching, trying to find an edge to cling to. As my hands found edges, my legs would launch up. I kept doing this until I reached the top. Looking down, I didn’t have fear, just tremendous joy over what I had just accomplished. After a mini photo shoot directed by Fred (leader) and fellow climber (Lisa), it was time to go down. Lower me please? Lowering. Off belay? Belay off.

I couldn’t believe I had just rock climbed and overcame my greatest fear of heights. It was time to climb more and so I did. Rock after rock until the day was done. It was an absolutely amazing experience. Climbing is much different than running. With running, your mind can wander a million different directions while your feet just keep moving. With climbing, your main concern is reaching the top; during this time your mind becomes blank – you just forget all your worries. Rock climbing is such a great de-stressor that everyone should try at least once in their life time. The one individual I met is a true testimony that your age should not define your capabilities; you must defy your age. Her name was Lisa.

Lisa is someone I hope to be like when I’m older. She is a 50-year-old, classic minivan mom. She was bored at home and wanted to try a new adventure of her own, so she signed up for rock climbing. She had previously done a lot of indoor rock climbing but never in the outdoors. Her positive attitude and determination to climb to the top of every rock resonated with the whole group. She was a go getter and made my rock-climbing experience even more memorable. Going forth from this adventure, Lisa wants to continue outdoor rock climbing. Lisa, rock on!

Oh Fred, this guy was a saint for putting up with my weirdness during the whole trip. Fred has been rock climbing for centuries now and has climbed all over America. He owned his own rock-climbing company and started as Venture Outdoors first and only rock-climbing leader. Unfortunately, Fred is retiring from climbing trips in a year, but his own adventures will continue to reach new limits.

Going forth from the trip, I learned a lot about rock climbing and all the dos and don’ts. For example, one rock we came across was defaced. Someone had put nuts along the one side of the rock. Fred was furious that someone had ruined a piece of a landmark. Additionally, he told me how Laurel Highlands used to be a hidden treasure for rock climbers but in recent years has gained a lot of popularity. Fred’s final remark is for everyone to respect the rocks you climb.

The final two individuals who accompanied us on the journey were Mike and Amanda. Mike was a state police officer who was an experienced climber and friend of Fred. This was one of Mike’s first times back out after his heart attack that left him partially paralyzed. After a year of intense recovery and rehab, Mike became mobile and went back to what he loved dong – rock climbing. Mike told me how the courtsey of climbers is that if someone ties a rope, everyone goes on that rope. Everyone just uses each other’s knots and, if you don’t, it’s a sign of disrespect.

Amanda who is another outstanding individual is not only a climber but a world traveler. Amanda is a teacher during the school year which leaves her summers wide open to explore. She told us about her many week-long trips all over and about her climbing adventures. Amanda started climbing 22 or so years ago when Fred asked her to accompany him on one. From that day forward, she was hooked.

Not only was I thankful to have met and spent a day with those four individuals, but I was grateful for all the climbers we encountered along our journey. These fellow climbers were all friendly and excited to help new climbers interested in the sport of rock climbing and to share their knowledge with us.

An hour and half drive, multitude of bug bites, lots of scrapes (from the rocks), and a rock hitting my windshield were all minor inconveniences to the memorable experience I had climbing and all the individuals I met along the journey.

For all of you reading this, I urge you to step out of your comfort zone and to challenge yourself. You don’t realize the amount of potential you have until you go out and try. So, what are you waiting for?