melissa i strong
rock climber, writer, photographer, working on life daily
My heart is in the Rockies.
My formative climbing years were spent in Rocky Mountain National Park, RMNP, which shaped the climber I am today. In the summer of 2002, not too long after I started climbing, I heard about some new boulders around Emerald Lake and Lake Haiyaha. Ready for an adventure I headed up with a local climber and friend Jim Belcer and Dean Potter. Being a beginner I was slightly intimidated by my company but my determination to climb and know where the rocks were won out and I headed up the trail with the two legends. I was practically jogging to keep up with Dean’s long strides and Jim’s fast clip. Somehow I made it without passing out. I got the tour and we went exploring for new rocks. It was a perfect day that made me crave more days just like this one (I write this ten years later in the morning before I head to the park). Soon after I made myself acquainted with Emerald I decided to explore the rocks around Lake Haiyaha. The warm up boulders and the moderate problems were easy to find and my limit—so I had plenty do for the first two seasons. Then I realized for me to keep climbing here I had to climb over my head, step it up and try harder. The Park does not offer an abundant amount of intermediate problems. Because of this and that the summer is the season to make money—meaning I only have two nonconsecutive days off a week, learning to climb here wasn’t an easy task. The demanding bouldering that The Park offers defined my approach to climbing today. I learned that I shouldn’t be daunted by the difficulty of a problem. The Park thought me how to make a boulder problem a project. I try a climb because it is appealing to me and if it goes well usually I am obsessed. This approach has forced me to learn patience over the years. Some years it pays off and others I am forced to accept failure and vow to return the next and sometimes the next...
One summer we will take time of and spend it here—that is my dream at least. Until then I will continue to charge up on my days off and attempt to climb before work.
How climbing came to me:
I started climbing in 2001. The day that reeled me in for what seems to be the rest of my life I decided to join some friends who were sport climbing at the Monastery, a climbing area west of Drake, CO. I became addicted as I hung on the rope and stared at the top of the climb. Determined to get in shape I started running and quit smoking. I was beginning to see that there was more to life than closing down bars and sleeping all day. I got a trad rack started and purchased quick draws and a rope. I was psyched! Then it seemed hard to find a partner. Working nights and not having weekends off made it difficult. This is when I found bouldering. A friend introduced me to it and I loved it--also I could go alone. I soon heard about the bouldering in Rocky so I went to check it out. Since then The Park has been one of my favorite places to climb, a place I call home, a place that shaped the climber who I am today.
How I got here:
I moved to Estes Park in 96—kind of by accident. I left my family’s home in Cape Cod and headed west exactly one year after I graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans. The plan was for me and the guy I was involved with at the time to find a place to live for one year and then we would carry on with “real life”—law school for him and a PhD in literature for me. Driving across the country our first state to check out was Montana. He voted for Whitefish Montana—“not for me,” I said. We continued across the country to Seattle. On this leg of the journey we saw a car accident that just happened. 18-wheelers formed a barrier—blocking off a portion of the highway and protecting the body. The truckers waved people on awaiting the ambulance. I could not help but wonder as we passed the twisted body, “is this a sign?” Seeing the grandeur of Reiner peak out of the clouds we drove south to Eugene. From there we headed into an immense forest driving inland to Bend, OR. That was my vote. I could picture myself living here, I thought—that notion got vetoed. “What’s next,” asked each other. We knew we liked Colorado so the decision was to go there and visit our friends who lived in Fort Collins. Not impressed with the Fort we drove up through Estes Park to take the scenic route to the ski resorts. At least we can hang out and ski for a season then continue on with our plans. After a visit to Breckenridge we were disappointed to find the cost of living so high. Sitting in a Motel 6 in Dillon, CO, we were fighting about what the hell we were going to do with our lives. “Let’s flip a coin” he declared. “Heads Massachusetts, tails we move back to New Orleans.” I think my response was something like—“are you fucking kidding me! I told you I would never live in New Orleans after school was over and I am not ready to go back to Mass—Lets just go back to that Estes Park town. It was cute and affordable and not too removed.” Fuming with anger that he never listens to me I drive the four-runner up the curvy road to Estes Park. Five months later he left for the comfort of his hometown New Orleans and the good ol’ boy circle he felt powerless without. Fifteen years later I sit in my kitchen in the lovely home my husband and I own in the woods on the outskirts of Estes Park.
Chaos climbing 2002
Some old school pictures of me climbing in the park--the beginning!