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Joshua Tree Rock Climbing Guide motivations

After a year of guiding in Joshua Tree, I have had a plethora of experiences that have come to redefine what being a rock climbing guide means to me. Ultimately, it is defined by moments and experiences in a client’s day. Essentially rock climbing guiding in Joshua Tree is a vicarious activity, and I have the privilege of setting the stage for vicarious successes or failures, of which I participate in completely and sympathetically. Rock climbing guiding can be a quite terrifying but infinitely rewarding experience.

Kathryn succeeding on "Toe Jam"

Kathryn succeeding on “Toe Jam”

We all remember our first rock climbing experience. Whether it was with a rock climbing guide in Joshua Tree, or a friend at a remote crag, a whole new world opened up to us right before our eyes as we adventured into unexplored and seemingly boundless opportunities. The realm of possibilities was endless, and our brains hemorrhaged with the sudden influx of new knowledge and learning. These first moments are a prelude to our climbing careers and experiences, and they either excite us or drive us away. As a guide, I feel privileged to be in the position to have complete control of designing this first experience. Observing clients participate in this moment is akin to watching the expressions on the face of a child who has seen the ocean for the first time.


Trinity’s first view of the ocean

It is a moment that can only be experienced once, and as a rock climbing guide, I feel a large responsibility in presenting this moment to clients in what I would consider a fair representation of my cumulative rock climbing experiences I have had throughout my rock climbing adventures. Watching faces light up with understanding and excitement is the true reward in guiding.

Although many of my clients have had previous rock climbing experiences, and many in Joshua Tree, it is still my goal as a rock climbing guide to show them this unique world in a fashion that will eclipse all previous rock climbing perceptions and experiences.

After the first explosion of knowledge and excitement, the universe of climbing continues to expand in the form of learning. It is this learning experience that has kept me so avidly interested in rock climbing. As individuals, learning occurs at various levels and stages in our experiences. Many of us have come to a point where our egos can interfere severely with this process, and it has become personally exceedingly important to retain the drive and thirst for understanding and learning in order to keep the fun factor high and ego in check. When we first begin rock climbing, learning occurs without effort. Everything is new, and therefore everything is a learning experience. This can be either frustrating or stimulating. Unfortunately, the difference between “fun” and “frustration” can be largely dependent on the venue atmosphere. This atmosphere is heavily influenced on who is doing the presenting, namely our co-climbers or rock climbing guide. One thing is certain, however. Learning only occurs in the presence of challenge. A good example of this phenomena can be explored in the simple act of driving a car. Our first experience driving a car is an intense learning activity. Especially if your first driving attempts are in a car with a manual transmission. However, after the mechanical motions have been established in our brains, the excitement fades, and soon we are sitting in stop and go traffic completely frustrated with the experience. Or bored on an exceedingly long road trip to a destination. While the learning curve for driving may continue if more extreme forms of driving are sought after (racing, off road driving, etc.), most of the excitement and learning occurs in the early stages. Rock climbing is a unique experience in that the learning never has to end. As long as we are willing to challenge ourselves and are willing to accept defeat, learning (and excitement) will continue. An entire lifetime of excitement and learning awaits those of us who are willing to accept challenge and want to learn. At times, ego can get in the way of this “fun factor” type climbing. Our egos start comparing us to others, or to our past experiences or achievements. Once this occurs, we get trapped in a descending spiral of negative feelings and overly self critical thoughts. The more we find blame, the worse we feel. The worse we feel, the less enjoyable the experience becomes. It is our responsibility to recognize this self limiting behavior and cut it off while it is still in bud form and before it has the chance to blossom.

Polly feeling "the moment" on top of the Aguille de Joshua Tree

Polly feeling “the moment” on top of the Aguille de Joshua Tree

As a rock climbing guide in Joshua Tree, I have the unique opportunity of an excellent venue (atmosphere) to stage exciting and learning moments. Joshua Tree is a beautiful and magical destination, and is considered a world class climbing destination. Joshua Tree has a climb for everyone, no matter the skill level. It is my job to properly match the challenger with the challenge. As the event orchestrator, I have the opportunity to be a positive influence that can help define what rock climbing means to my clients.

This has become the meaning of guiding to me. It is my opportunity to introduce an awesome realm of learning and creativity to clients who would have otherwise not had the technical means to venture into this world. A successful day of rock climbing guiding is a day when I feel I have done a good job at assisting others on their way to exploring rock climbing in a positive environment and have helped them see the possibilities rock climbing has to offer.

Yes, guiding can be terrifying. Many clients who hire a guide have no prior knowledge of climbing. While hiring a rock climbing guide is a very smart move from a client’s perspective, it can be quite terrifying from a rock climbing guide’s perspective to put your life in the hands of a completely new rock climber. Many times, shortly after I have just taught a client how to belay, I go on lead to put up a rock climb for them while they belay me. While I typically do not climb anything I wouldn’t feel ok free soloing, there is always the possibility of falling. No one plans on falling. Circumstances are not always ideal. Many times, just when we are least expecting it, we pop off of a climb and find ourselves hurtling through the air. With this in mind, I tend to climb quite carefully and deliberately while leading routes with brand new belayers. It is true, the quality of the belay my clients give me is a direct reflection on my teaching abilities. If they belay me poorly, it is my fault. I accept this responsibility. Hesitantly. It has become part of the job for me. Not my favorite part, but a necessary part.

Rock climbing is a sport with endless learning opportunities and experiences. It has become my life’s passion, and I hope I have the opportunity to show as many people as possible a part of why I love climbing.

Nelson on top of Levitation 29 (5.11c) in Red Rock Canyon

Nelson on top of Levitation 29 (5.11c) in Red Rock Canyon



September 30, 2014. Posted by: nelsonday