Written by Sarah Laico and Mary Murphy

There is some exciting news in the climbing community at Colorado College right now: The Climber’s Association of Colorado College (CACC) is back. After a brief hiatus, the CACC has resurfaced with a strong crew of climbers who bring in speakers, organize events, and share climbing news both in and outside of CC.

The latest event featured two local climbers from Boulder, Colo., who spoke to an audience of 25 students packed into the Ritt Kellog Gym on the evening of second Wednesday. Nina Riggio, senior and staff member of the CACC, introduced climbers Jon Cardwell and Chelsea Rude. “I’ve known Chelsea and Jon for a really long time and they are such great people,” says Riggio. “They are really approachable, too!”

Cardwell and Rude are two nationally ranked climbers and boulderers, both based out of Boulder, Colo. They have traveled all over the country and the world, looking for inspiration, challenges, and new climbs. Cardwell, a crazy climber turned traveler, was raised by climbing parents who introduced him to the outdoors at a very young age.

“We would go mountain biking, skiing, and climbing…and once I began to climb outdoors it really stuck,” Cardwell explained. He was also introduced to national and international climbing competitions in his youth—he and Rude both, which she said is the first thing that fueled her passion for climbing. Rude similarly was inspired to climb by her father; he noticed an ad in the newspaper about a local climbing gym and suggested that the two of them check it out. Upon first setting foot in the gym, she was hooked on the sport.

Rude developed her climbing skills through indoor competitions, a perfect platform around which to “center [her] goals.” The strength she acquired from performing at the competitive level aided her when her dad brought her to climb outdoors in places like Yosemite. Rude and Cardwell have tag-teamed all over the world, climbing in areas like Hueco Tanks, Texas, Rocky Mountain National Park, Rifle, Colo., Red River Gorge, Ky., and places abroad like Getu Valley, China, and Ceuse, France.

Cardwell began climbing in youth climbing competitions. After conquering indoor climbing and local outdoor climbing as well, he was ready for something new. “I wanted more from climbing,” Cardwell explains. “I knew that traveling would be the next big thing for me.”

Cardwell began his slideshow, taking the audience on a virtual tour of climbs around the world. Cardwell made the second ascent on the route “Shadow-Boxing,” a 5.14d located on the Western Slope wall in Rifle, Colo. He climbed “Necessary Evil,” a 5.14c, in Red River Gorge, Ky., which his best friend and climber Matt Hong turned into a film.

Of course, he climbed most often near his home in Boulder Canyon, Colo., where he completed “The Game,” a V15 that changed his perspective on climbing.

“I put two years of effort into this climb…[and found that] hard-work and dedication to one specific thing eventually does pay off,” says Cardwell.

Cardwell didn’t just travel locally. He repeatedly traveled to Ceuse, France, a popular climbing destination, to climb a 5.15a called “Realization.” Cardwell climbed other routes as well, but said that, “Realization kept me coming back so many times…it was a long-term project.”

The audience of student climbers found out a few seconds later that Cardwell hasn’t completed this route yet. Putting years into one climb seems crazy, but also seems like the type of attitude and dedication to strive towards.

“[It] taught me a lot about climbing and how much you have to work at it,” says Cardwell. “That’s really what I love about climbing.”

In addition to popular climbing destinations worldwide, Cardwell also created routes in places where climbing was almost non-existent, gaining many first ascents along the way. The limestone caves in Getu Valley, China, near Yungang, or what Cardwell refers to as “middle-of-nowhere, China,” is one of his favorite places. When Cardwell and his friends arrived, they found massive caverns filled with caves about 1,000 feet tall, “the size of small school buses.” Climbing abroad in countries where climbing isn’t as developed “was the beginning of a new era.” He adds that, “I would visit a new place, send new routes, and then think: What’s next?”

While Cardwell focused his presentation on getting out of his comfort zone and climbing in undeveloped areas, Rude focused more on the mental aspect of climbing. As she explained from the start, she always felt a sense of security in climbing competitively. This familiarity always beckoned her back inside, despite enjoying her time spent sport climbing outdoors.

However, she eventually started to understand that by stepping outside of her comfort zone she could truly increase her climbing potential. She first gained confidence in her outdoor abilities when she traveled to Spain and climbed a 5.14 on her fourth try. Returning to Red River Gorge, she also onsighted several 5.13s. The real challenge came later when she traveled with Cardwell to Ceuse, France. There, while Cardwell tackled “Realization” relentlessly, she found herself hesitating.

“I was afraid of failing,” she admitted, acknowledging that her redpoint level and onsight level were too close together. She decided that a shift in attitude was necessary: Instead of fearing failure, she needed to “be afraid not to try.” With this mindset, she managed to have the first female ascent on “Double Rainbow” (5.14a) in Rifle, Colo. Energized, she decided to return to Red River Gorge and try “Thanatopsis” (5.14b), a route that she had struggled with previously. She was determined to reverse the negative associations that she had established with the climb.

“When I was rehearsing [the beta] in my sleep I could tell that I wasn’t as confident…but that slowly changed,” says Rude. Unfortunately, despite her best efforts, she simply could not send the route in the week she spent at the Gorge. Though she felt discouraged and empty-handed, she reflected that she learned a lot from the experience. She emphasized rest, climbing quality over quantity, and the ability to “go with the flow” as important steps to take when approaching a tough route such as this one.

Things took a turn for the worse when Rude injured her knee a few months ago while climbing indoors. After her recovery, she and Jon decided to mix things up and give ice climbing a try. Rude immediately felt a deep connection with this new form of climbing. Not only did the style mesh well with her natural “early riser” tendencies, she also found that the ability to climb ice as well as mixed (ice and rock) climbs could open “the door for adventure.”

Though she still has limited ice and mixed climbing experience, she is incredibly excited about the future of her climbing in these domains. As she said, “It’s the experience that allows you to grow.”

To gain confidence in her skills and become more willing to try complex problems she simply needed to realize that she doesn’t “want to accept that [she] can’t do something.” For this reason, she’ll continue not only to push herself to accept discomfort, but also to force herself to remain open-minded. Cardwell shares in this mindset, adding, “We climb because we want to get into the mountains. We want to continue to learn new things.”

Both climbers explained how they elevated their own climbing experiences through travel, challenges, and optimism, thus offering advice and inspiration for CC students to do the same. Cardwell’s main advice to CC students is to be open-minded and adventurous, to challenge themselves physically, and to constantly rethink your definition of climbing. Meanwhile, Rude,reassured climbers that it’s normal to have doubts and be afraid, but that fear should not deter you from taking risks, embracing the possibility of failure, and stepping outside your comfort zone. At the heart of both their talks, however, was the encouragement to simply get outdoors and try new things.

The group of captivated student climbers was lucky to have had this opportunity to hear these two climbers’ wisdom, thanks to the Climbers’ Association of Colorado College. CACC meets on first and third Wednesdays of each block in upstairs Worner, and events can be found through the coloradocollege.edu event page.

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