Rock climber Paige Claassen recaps her first stop on the Marmot Lead Now Tour, a global tour to inspire people through rock climbing and raise $120,000 for charity organizations.
By Paige Claassen
Our car flies down the N-1, South Africa’s primary highway, but my mind races even faster. After traveling 48 hours from the United States to Johannesburg, I have no idea what to expect from this country of which I’ve heard only about lions and muggings. I’m here to rock climb, so I assume I’m in for an adventure, but as we exit left (South Africans drive on the opposite side) onto a dirt road, I’m immediately immersed in a culture outside the realm of my dreams.
A few hours after landing, I’m welcomed into the home of a friend I’d met only through emails and loaded into the car for a safari. Forget jetlag—there are wild giraffe and zebra waiting in the backyard. Within a week, I’ve learned some local lingo (‘sawubona’ means ‘hello’ in Zulu), the difference between an American BBQ and a South African braai (namely patience, because the braai requires hours of fire preparation to cook tender ostrich meat and traditional spiced beef sausage), and most notably, the kindness and generosity of the South African people, regardless of color. Much of the country is poor, but less violent than portrayed in American media, so awareness and forethought are the best safety tools for travellers. Folks wave on the street as they walk home with wood for the evening’s fire piled on their head. Friends share tasty meals in their homes. And the local climbers invited us to “develop” a new climbing area by making “first ascents”, or being the first person to ever climb a route.
While in South Africa, I had the opportunity to make the first ascent of a route called Digital Warfare, graded 5.14, one of the top grades among female climbers. This was a special opportunity because I’d never been the first person to complete a route, especially one at my physical limit. Digital Warfare required strong fingers, endurance, and a steady mind. To prepare, I climbed as many easier routes as I could to build confidence and went on runs through the tall African grasses to improve my endurance.
By completing this climb, I hope to bring awareness to an organization that has grown very dear to my heart. Room to Read provides school libraries in developing countries with resources and reading materials so that young students can receive an education. Upon visiting one of Room to Read’s libraries in the rural countryside, I learned that 50% of the elementary age students have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. When a little girl named Angel, who had moments ago asked me how she could overcome her fear of climbing to the top of a mountain, asked “when are you coming back?” I knew that this would not be my last time in South Africa. I will certainly be back, hopefully with new knowledge about how I can help enthusiastic children like Angel, who dream of lifting their own communities out of poverty.
To get involved and donate online to Paige’s Room to Read fundraiser, visit http://www.crowdrise.com/SouthAfrica-RoomtoRead
Check back next month for a video and update about Location #2: RUSSIA.
Stay tuned for the inspiring video of Paige's time in South Africa. FitnessMagazine.com, with thanks to Marmot and Louder Than 11, will have the first-look exclusive video later this week. Check back soon!