A climber's reflection: Being in that exact spot, at that exact moment
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A climber’s reflection: Being in that exact spot, at that exact moment

Lang on a rock. Photo by Summer Holt

By Lang Van Dommelen, legal assistant

I always wanted to climb as a kid. As soon as I started to walk, I started to climb. When I got to the top of whatever I summited, I would start to count down, forcing my parents to rush over and grab me before I jumped.

Though I grew out of BASE jumping, I never stopped climbing.

At 13, I started lessons at the Alaska Rock Gym and immediately became hyper-focused on climbing. I would regularly spend entire weekends at the gym until my fingers almost bled. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that I lived and breathed climbing.

The obsession stayed with me. In college I used my first scholarship payment to buy climbing gear and arranged my school and work schedules around maximizing climbing time, indoors and out.

The next hardest thing, please

All I cared about back then was climbing the next hardest grade, even if it was a dynamite-blasted roadcut with traffic roaring below me. As I got older, the difficulty of the climb still mattered, but I also started to appreciate that when climbing, all the issues and concerns that created stress in my life faded away. All that mattered was me and the rock.

A climber's reflection on growing less concerned with the difficulty of the climb and more about where it takes you outside and in.
Climbing in Gates of the Arctic. Photo by Gus Barber

Eventually, I started doing expedition climbing. I felt inspired by the fame and glory of climbing big, extreme routes in the big mountains, but soon I noticed how the hard work of hiking in (or out), meal planning, camping on glaciers, and planning big trips all became part of the journey.

Over time, these expeditions changed the way I experienced climbing and altered the way I experience the outdoors to this day. I slowly became less focused on the climbing and more on the entire project of doing an expedition.

The freedom from everyday worries I once only experienced while climbing now permeates every aspect of every expedition. Being away from the noise and chaos of everyday life, whatever I do outdoors, now brings the same kind of peace I used to find only when climbing.

A heart left full

While I still love to climb, and climb difficult routes, expedition climbing has expanded the way I interact with nature. I get the best of all worlds now–the sense of awe and wonder when in the majesty of huge landscapes and the peace that comes with being away from social media, news, and everyday stresses.

A climber's reflection on expeditions and the relationship with nature.
A climbing expedition in the Talkeetna Mountains. Photo by Lang.

And I get to experience the small moments of each individual climb.

Expeditions have opened the door to new and exciting opportunities, as I find myself taking part in more diverse outdoor activities, from backcountry skiing to hunting.

The one thing I can count on no matter what I do outside is that I will return with my heart full and my dreams rich with a longing to climb, ski, hunt and get outside again.

Three questions about spending time in/with nature

What do you think is the ideal amount of time for you to spend in/with nature?

As much time as possible! I try and get outside every day even if it’s just for a short dog walk.

What does a meaningful experience in nature look like for you?

I think that meaningful experiences in nature can mean many things. Spending a day skiing in Turnagain Pass in the sun with a good friend can be just as meaningful and fulfilling as being miles from the nearest road watching the sunrise on the nearby peaks. Both fill a valuable spot in my heart.

A climber's reflection one how climbing puts you in the exact spot at that exact moment to experience nature's awe.
Sunrise in Gates of the Arctic. Photo by Lang

Describe one moment in nature/outdoors that left you with a sense of awe and connection?

There are so many! One moment that I always come back to is walking down from a successful climb in the Arrigetch Peaks of Gates of the Arctic National Park. We had just spent 24 hours on the wall and the sun was just beginning to rise, illuminating  the peaks around us.

I just sat down and watched. In some ways, it seemed like climbing was simply meant to put me in the exact spot at that exact moment.

Lang is the legal assistant with Trustees. His story is the seventh in a monthly series about how nature, getting outside, and being with land and water influences human health, resilience, connection, and purpose. Look for these stories in our monthly newsletters.

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