By Angie Payne, Professional Climber
It’s 8 o’clock on a Friday night. My hands are a mess of chalk and tape, and a few of my cuticles are oozing blood. My fingers ache and my forearms burn, but I still have enough energy for just one more try. While many people are out enjoying good food and drinks after a long week of work, I am, quite literally, throwing myself at a wall. This is my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I am a Midwesterner, a coffee addict, a dog lover, and a sucker for cheesy cold case TV shows. But above all else, I am a climber. I can confidently say that nothing has impacted the course of my life or helped shape who I am more than climbing. In fact, I fell so deeply in love with this sport that I have built my entire world around it. What began as an extra-curricular activity in grade school has now become my passion and profession.
Climbing is like nothing else I have ever tried. It requires a person to find the perfect medium, on the spectrums of various traits: finesse and pure strength, patience and aggressiveness, over-confidence and humility. Climbing exercises the brain with its endless supply of puzzling challenges, while also providing one of the best full-body workouts a person could ask for.
And then there are the people. The climbing community is a diverse and somewhat quirky collection of humans. Climbers run the gamut from dirtbag vagabonds to meticulous engineers, and there is no lack of eccentrics among them. The community is both geographically and characteristically wide-ranging, and you can find a climber most anywhere you go — even in flatlands devoid of rock. Some of my most fond climbing memories were made in a dark, dingy Ohio climbing gym, surrounded by the heckling and laughter of close friends. Our ages and backgrounds were all over the board, but climbing was the common thread among us.
Climbing in the gym eventually lead me to climbing outside, which in turn introduced me to an entirely new and amazing aspect of the sport: the places it can take me. Climbers go where the rocks are, and it just so happens that rocks are typically located in beautiful places. Sometimes those places are right under my nose, and climbing makes me appreciate a familiar spot in a new way. Other times these places are at the ends of the Earth, and climbing exposes me to scenes that I never imagined existed. I have developed a deep respect for the wild places in the world, and the outdoors have become a significant part of my life. I have climbing to thank for that.
Climbing taught me to… well… climb, but perhaps more importantly, climbing taught me to fall. Falling is a huge part of the climbing experience. To many, the upward progress that climbing involves is immediately alluring. Sure, that part is incredible – after all, who doesn’t love moving up, succeeding, seeing the view from the top? Achieving success in climbing is fantastically fun and rewarding. But, after nearly twenty years in the sport, I have come to appreciate the falling aspect as much, if not more, than the climbing itself. To be able to choose a tangible challenge and attempt it over and over, experiencing “failure” time and time again, fighting a physical and mental battle, and then eventually completing that challenge — this is the process that I absolutely love about climbing. And, as if that isn’t good enough, there is always another challenge waiting. In this way, climbing gives us no other choice than to be humble, even in our times of great “success.”
Last summer, I completed a boulder problem that I had been attempting since 2010. I poured more than 60 days and hundreds of hours into climbing that tiny piece of rock. I fell more times than I could ever count. And then one time, one single time — I didn’t fall. My “success” consumed approximately .0001% of the entire experience. And now I will move onto working on one of the thousands of boulder problems that I haven’t yet climbed. This is the essence of climbing, and everyone, no matter how skilled or strong, can experience this on some level.
A person who has been climbing for one day can go through the same basic process as a climber of twenty years. They can be welcomed by the same community, and travel to the same gorgeous places. They can try hard, and push themselves — and fall. And they can feel the urge to try just one more time. That is the beauty of climbing.
Angie Payne is a professional climber. Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Angie began climbing indoors at the age of eleven. She spent the next five years participating in junior sport climbing competitions before becoming focused on bouldering. Upon moving to Boulder in 2003 to attend the University of Colorado, Angie employed her plastic pulling skills to win three ABS National Championships and two PCA competitions in the 2003-2004 season. Over the next nine years, more than 20 podium finishes were added to Angie’s competitive bouldering resume, including a recent 3rd place finish at the American Bouldering Series National Championships.
Her success isn’t just limited to the indoor realm — Angie has numerous notable outdoor ascents under her belt. Between 2004 and 2013, Angie completed first female ascents of 30 boulder problems V9-V12. In 2010, after climbing European Human Being V12 and No More Greener Grasses V12, Angie completed The Automator and became the first woman in the world to climb a confirmed V13. She has climbed in various areas around the world, including Switzerland, France, Greenland, and French Polynesia. She is sponsored by Mountain Hardwear, Five Ten, Organic Climbing, eGrips, LifeSport Chiro, Mac’s Smack, and Runa.
Angie’s love of climbing is only rivaled by her deep affections for frosting, rainbow sprinkles, and Instagram.