I was getting ready for a weeklong (non-climbing) road trip at the beginning of March with big intentions of returning home and getting some quality climbing days in.
My plan in the pre-coronavirus world was to take 3-days off from work in the middle of the week to get out and climb at Smith Rock during non-peak days, with the goal of ticking off as many of the routes that remained on my “To Do” list as possible. It would provide some much-needed time outside as well as time hanging with friends at the crag. That all changed as we were a day out from the end of our trip.
Little seemed to be the way we had left it upon returning home. Grocery stores looked like they had been looted, family and friends were calling with panic in their voices, and news outlets were running stories with grim forecasts of the public health crisis coming to America. Climbing was the last thing on my mind at the time, but that changed as the new normal of daily life routines set in.
The Bend Rock Gym along with every other business in Oregon was forced to shut down. We were to remain in isolation away from others and employ the 6-feet rule at all times. On top of that, my wife was pregnant without any data on the potential impacts of a COVID-19 infection in pregnant women or their unborn children. It felt risky to even go outside let alone think about being around other people climbing, so I resorted to running more and figuring out ways to maintain some sort of climbing fitness. This meant doing things I never would have thought of in the past. I don’t like to train in the gym to get stronger. No hangboards, no campus boards, no core workouts. Just climb and have fun doing it.
With gym routes no longer an option I had to pivot. I quickly transitioned into the junkie climber you see hanging out at the gym, connecting to the free WiFi to research climbing workouts before heading back to their van for some R & R. This meant researching and trying everything from hangboard workouts to P90X core workouts. Remember the P90X craze and all those people that would come up to you complaining about how sore they were from their P90X workout the previous day?
I was so desperate I found myself staring at the brick exterior of the local elementary school on walks with my dog thinking that if I woke up early enough, I could probably put my climbing shoes on and spend time traversing the façade. I had even scoped out all the security cameras on the school exterior to try and find sections of wall that were hidden from surveillance like I was a part of the Ocean’s 11 climbing team. Fortunately I had purchased a Metolius Foundry hangboard a few years back thinking I would train on it, something that never really became a reality. (See below for a few workouts I’ve leaned on since the start of COVID-19.)
Not getting a chance to actually climb on real rock or plastic has made me realize that the thing I miss most is the social side of climbing. I’m not an extrovert or chatty Cathy at the crag or gym but I long for the day I can get back around people that are excited to be climbing. Unlike COVID-19, climbing can be an infectious driver of energy and exuberance.
I miss watching climbers trying hard and smiling while being lowered off a route. I miss the laughs that come with blowing an easy move or being humbled at a crux. I miss the conversations with my climbing partner while tying in. I miss the encouraging nature of the sport that inevitably leads to some random person you’ve never met cheering you on from the ground as you give it your all on route. Most of all, I miss being able to be around other people without having to worry about spreading or contracting a deadly virus.
While not being able to climb during COVID-19 is a downer, there is a lot to be thankful for in this time. My closest friends and family have remained healthy and we now reach out to each other more than we ever did prior to the pandemic. I have weekly standing calls with out-of-state friends to catch up and shoot the shit, which is hilarious because none of us are doing a whole lot these days given social distancing.
And while I have been able to connect with people more regularly, there are others that I now do not see at all. It’s hard but I know I’m not alone in this struggle. Just looking at traffic to this website reminds me that others have had to shelve climbing and all the other things they love for the time being. The chart below shows traffic trends by week to ClimbSmith.com, with the red line indicating the start of COVID-19 lockdowns in early March here in Oregon. You’ll notice that in typical years, climbing interest starts to sprout like the buds on the trees at the early signs of spring.
Annual website traffic to ClimbSmith.com before and after COVID-19
The orange trend line shows an upward trend of traffic starting at the beginning of March 2019 and increasing over the following weeks. It demonstrates the seasonal interest and activity of climbers that inevitably stokes up each spring. Compare that with the blue trend line of 2020 and the impotent trajectory of traffic at the same time one year later.
Another data set from Google Trends demonstrates a similar pattern. Overall interest for rock climbing typically sees relative highs in the spring, but this year a dramatic dip in interest coincided with COVID-19 as climbers were likely resigned to their fate of not being able to climb. In other words, why bother researching new gear or routes when you can’t climb?
Google trends data for ‘Rock Climbing’ over the past 24-months
COVID-19 didn’t just shut me and climbing down, it shut everyone down (at least those with half a brain) along with the things that bring them joy in life. I take some solace in knowing that while times are tough, we’ll get through this together and bounce back to be yet again clipping draws.
After varying attempts at different workouts, I have landed on a few go-to workouts to try and maintain some sort of endurance, finger strength, and pull strength in what now has been 7 months of at home “training” since the pandemic started. Because I haven’t climbed in the gym or outside since early March, I have no idea whether these workouts are actually translating to any sort of fitness – time will tell.