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Grieving, Healing, and Climbing Still

During this year’s International Climbers’ Festival in Lander, Wyoming, mental health awareness within the outdoor community was at the forefront of many participants’ minds. The pandemic, recent traumatic events, and working through grief were significant topics taken on by me (Becca) as my role as lead mental health trainer with Alpenglow and involvement with the Climbing Grief Fund (CGF). CGF Founder & Director Madaleine Sorkin and I gave two free, well-attended clinics during the climbing festival, covering grief and trauma. We hoped to increase further mental health awareness in the outdoor community, de-stigmatize discussions involving mental well-being and trauma to be more successful and wholehearted leaders, and work towards building a more equitable and social justice-oriented community.

At the heart of many of these conversations are methods to cope with adversity, build individual and community resiliency, and de-stigmatizing mental illness as well as therapeutic treatments. In addition to these clinics, the International Climbers’ Festival hosted a performance written and performed by Molly Jones, Chomolungma, which dives into an individual’s journey working through grief after a tragedy on Mount Everest. This performance and the clinics facilitated by the CGF demonstrated the increased concern and awareness that, as a climbing community, we must discuss mental health and trauma to foster resiliency and build a more supportive environment. Not only does this allow for all of us to be more open, but during these conversations, we find ourselves amongst a group of people who understand what it’s like to continue to love the sport that hurts those around us. We also touched on that feeling“heart-in-the-throat feeling” that happens before leading a difficult pitch but putting ourselves in that position of possible failure anyway. For a long time, like with many communities, the climbing realm worked through individual/group traumas, often around fires, in tents, or at a picnic table, which absolutely has its benefits and is still necessary for support. In addition to these intimate conversations, many organizations and individuals work diligently to create a space that enables friends and family to grieve together and support others living with a mental illness.

Podcasts like:

1. Kathy Karlo’s For the Love of Climbing

2. Chris Kalous’ The Enormocast, such as Margo Talbot – Climbing Through the Pain

4. Kris Hampton’s The Power Company Cody Kaemmerlen – Climb United

These are only a few examples of how influential folks in the climbing community express grievances, display vulnerability, and acknowledge the importance of these immense topics. After sitting down with Kathy Karlo myself, I am looking towards the future and am incredibly inspired by people exploring these complex realities. Their dedication to continuing to give those of us living with a mental illness a voice and outlet to show others the best ways to be supported and support others. It’s only up from here!

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