Written on May 21, 2014 at 11:29 am , by Guest Blogger
Paige Claassen is a professional rock climber and the creator of the Lead Now program. Over the last year, we’ve followed her amazing journey to South Africa, Russia, Italy, Japan, China, India, Turkey, Ecuador and Chile. Her global climbing tour has raised money and awareness for non-profit organizations around the world. And it’s inspired the heck out of us! Now that she’s home, she shares her reflections on her trip. (You can also watch her amazing highlight video, too.)
Just over one month has passed since I returned home from my trip around the world to climb and raise money for global non profit organizations. Lead Now was the journey of a lifetime, a series of experiences I won’t soon forget, yet can’t seem to put into words. Each memory, distinct in colors, smells, and the smiles of new friends, has melded into a grand collage, one I might mistake for a dream were it not for the photographical evidence.
Start: Colorado. A tremendous lightening storm lit up the sky on our last night in the United States last June.
Stop #1: South Africa. Children from a rural elementary school supported by Room to Read perform a traditional dance during our visit to their school library. 50 percent of these students are orphans of HIV/AIDS, and the only meals they eat are on weekdays at school.
Stop #2: Russia. The road to our farmhouse, deep in the forest of western Russia, where we stayed with a family who spoke only Russian. We learned to communicate with smiles and laughter, picking mushrooms and berries in the forest, and adapting to life without running water or electricity.
Stop #3: Italy. A view of Lake Como, which sits just below the Alps, where we spent a month climbing on granite cliffs amidst fog, cowbells, and endless pastries.
Stop #4: Japan. Sushi breakfast outside of Tsukiji Fish Market. The largest wholesale seafood market in the world handles over 400 types of seafood each day. We found fresh fish to be more affordable than fresh fruits and vegetables in Japan!
Stop #5: China. On Thanksgiving Day, our local friends taught us how to make dumplings from scratch. The process was harder than I imagined, but made for a delicious meal!
Stop #6: India. A young girl twirls for the camera outside her home in Badami, India. While most women in smaller villages avoid eye contact, this girl’s mother waved me up to her backyard to spend a few minutes chatting in broken English.
Stop #7: Turkey. Ruins of the great city of Aspendos tower over modern villages down below. As the setting sun peaked in and out of cracks and holes in the dilapidated stonework, I tried to imagine life 3,000 years ago under the same setting sun.
Stop #8: Ecuador. A local indigenous farmer from Heifer International shows off one of the many guinea pigs she raises on her farm. Guinea pig is a delicacy in some parts of South America, and we spent the afternoon roasting them over a fire. The meat is extremely rich and salty, albeit a bit foreign.
Stop #9: Chile. Just a few hours from the city of Santiago, a quiet stream snakes among the jagged hills and volcanoes of Cajon del Maipo.
End: Colorado. Trail runs through my backyard in Estes Park remind me that no matter where we live, we need only look to discover the details that make life beautiful. (Photo by Paige Claassen.)
Now that I’m back in the US, once more surrounded by friends and family and the responsibilities of day to day life, I’ve taken on a new appreciation for the beauty of home. What once felt familiar and almost dull now seems vibrant and full of opportunities for new adventures and discoveries. I thought Africa and the Amazon held all the beautiful birds in the world, with their pink and purple patterns and sophisticated calls, yet a trail run through my backyard reminded me of the vibrant blue and yellow wings that grace the skies of Colorado.
Traveling allows us to explore our curiosity and learn about the people, languages, cultures, and sites that make up our world. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to absorb so many of those special details, from the smooth chocolate flavor of Ecuadorian coffee to the bright eyes of a young Indian girl walking to school. But for the moment, home feels pretty good.
All photos by Jon Glassberg (LT11.com), except where noted.
Written on April 15, 2014 at 4:31 pm , by Guest Blogger
Paige is climbing in Chile to support VE Global, which fosters the development of children at social risk in Santiago by empowering volunteers to serve as positive role models, educators and advocates of social justice. Learn more and help Lead Now support VE at www.crowdrise.com/leadnowtourchile
By Paige Claassen
I awoke abruptly to horns, chatter, and clanging. I was in the city. Nothing unusual for most, except that I’d spent the last nine months far away from noise and traffic – deep in forests, barren Indian deserts, or vacant winter shores. For most of Marmot’s Lead Now Tour, my climbing objectives were peacefully removed from civilization. But my final month of travel brought me to Santiago, Chile. I felt culture shocked.
For such a large, sprawling city, Santiago boasts many nearby outdoor climbing cliffs. Mountains surround the entire city, but the tall snowy peaks are rarely visible beneath the brown haze of pollution. My throat ached each morning, not yet accustomed to breathing the clouded air. Yet Santiago offered the change of pace I yearned for over the past months. I could practice my Spanish while navigating the city and find fresh fruits and vegetables at each corner.
I spent most days attempting hard climbs outside the city, completing a few routes that no women had climbed before. But the end of the month brought the final challenge of Lead Now – the largest climbing competition in South America. The pressure of performing well in front of a large audience and the challenge of attempting a route I’ve never before seen excited me as a teenager. But over time, I transitioned my focus to climbing outside. I hadn’t competed in three years, nor had I climbed in a gym in nine months. Climbing in a gym and climbing outside are practically two different sports. Each requires very different skill sets.
I wasn’t prepared for this competition, but I knew it would be a fun reintroduction to a facet of climbing I hadn’t recently explored. On the first day, I performed well, completing all 5 routes in the qualifying round and placing second. The following day, I placed third in semi finals after timing out on my last route. In finals that evening, my body felt exhausted. I opted for a brief warmup in hopes of conserving the little energy I had.
In climbing, competitors must remain behind the climbing wall before the competition, so as not to see the routes they will climb. As I walked out to the wall, I scanned the crowd and spotted four of the little girls supported by our Chilean non profit partner, VE Global. Their smiles calmed me. I didn’t feel intimidated. Instead, I felt my old competitive edge creep back in, fed by the loud music and cheers of the audience.
I didn’t do my best in finals. I couldn’t shake the fatigue built up in the previous rounds. My body was accustomed to climbing one very hard route outside each day, but I lacked the endurance needed for a multi-round competition. But unlike my early days of competition, I wasn’t disappointed. I had fun. I left Chile after nine months of travel with a smile on my face, reminiscing about all the new friends I had met around the world and the beautiful places I climbed. The journey has been rich with memories, but it feels good to be home!
To get involved and donate online to help, visit Crowdrise.
Check back next month for a final video about Paige’s adventures and stay tuned for the video of Paige’s time in Chile!
Written on March 18, 2014 at 10:22 am , by Guest Blogger
Paige is climbing in Ecuador to raise money for Heifer International, a global non profit that applies the “teach a man to fish” philosophy by helping bring sustainable agriculture to impoverished communities. To join Lead Now in supporting Heifer, donate online at www.crowdrise.com/leadnowtourecuador. Donate $27 or more and you’ll be entered into a monthly raffle to win a Marmot tent!
By Paige Claassen
It wasn’t until I arrived in Ecuador that I connected the dots: ‘ecuador’ means ‘equator’ in Spanish. This small country, roughly the size of my home state of Colorado, is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Pristine beaches, snow covered 20,000 foot peaks, and the Amazon jungle are each accessible within an eight hour drive.
Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism is making the country’s many outdoor sports available to locals and tourists alike. Roads, bike lanes, and access to National Parks seemed even more progressive than in the United States. With four weeks to explore the country, I set out to visit as many unique areas as possible, each holding it’s own special views, cuisine, and activities.
My tour began amidst the historic architecture and abundant cathedrals of Quito. As I drove south into the countryside, the Quilotoa crater presented the opportunity for a breathtaking two hour hike at 12,800 feet around the 7.5 mile crater rim.
A bit further into my journey, I reached Tungurahua, an active volcano spewing steam and black puffs of smoke along with its thunderous explosions that shook the town and farmland beneath. I missed Tungurahua’s eruption of lava by just a few days.
But my true objective waited in Cajas National Park, just outside the quaint city of Cuenca – an unclimbed route on a 30 meter cliff spattered with orange lichen awaited a first ascent.
After spending a few days cleaning the route of loose rock and volcanic ash, I was ready to attempt my goal. Yet Ecuador wasn’t yet willing to hand over this beautiful piece of rock to a foreigner, and instead struck me down with food poisoning.
I came back three days later light and ready to attack, and completed the route. I named it Middle Earth for the fairytale setting – rolling hills with Dr. Seuss like tufts of grass, horses whinnying and llamas humming below the cliff, and menacing wisps of fog rolling quickly in and out of the valley.
To top off my trip, I visited two of Lead Now non profit partner Heifer International’s local projects in Ecuador. Heifer helps impoverished communities establish a secure income and future by developing sustainable agriculture practices through livestock, seeds, and training. During the first project, I learned from alpaca farmers about their animals and how the alpaca fiber, or fur, is spun into yarn and sold at markets. As part of the second project, local produce farmers invited me to roast cuy, or guinea pig (a local delicacy), over a fire and then share a meal together. These interactions with the local people are experiences I will always keep close to my heart.
My preconceptions of Ecuador misled me. I expected a third world country similar to that I experienced in Peru – beautiful but dirty and seemingly a bit unsecure. Instead, I found a country rich not only in traditional South American culture, but filled with diverse settings, impeccably clean streets, and the friendly faces of parents and children playing. I’m so glad I seized the opportunity to explore this often underappreciated country. Thank you for the beautiful memories Ecuador!
To get involved and donate online to help, visit Crowdrise.
Check back next month for a video and update about Paige’s next location. And stay tuned for the video of Paige’s time in Ecuador! FitnessMagazine.com, with thanks to Marmot and Louder Than 11, will have the first-look exclusive video .
Written on February 12, 2014 at 1:15 pm , by Guest Blogger
Paige climbed in Turkey to support CARE, which combats global poverty. Help Paige raise $10,000 for CARE on her Crowdrise page.
By Paige Claassen
A marathon runner will likely earn sloth status in a sprint. A road cycler is prone to a few bruises on a mountain bike course. Put a technical sport climber on a horizontal roof and watch them flounder and fall. We’re all assumed to be experts in our respective sport, career, or hobby. But seemingly subtle variations from the outside actually make a big impact when you’re the one in the driver’s seat.
I spent the month of January climbing the steep limestone roofs of Geyikbayiri, Turkey. Typically, I prefer vertical climbs that require precise footwork, strong fingers, and technical movement. Alternatively, the rock in Turkey offers a much steeper, more powerful and physical style of climbing. My attempts to navigate the stalactite roof features left me feeling disoriented, as though I was underwater and didn’t know which way was up.
As with other styles of climbing, roof climbing is a very specific skill that requires dedicated practice. Roofs often require climbers to lead with their feet rather than hands. Surprisingly, roof climbs often offer “no hands rests,” whereby a climber can wedge their knees against features and let go of the rock with both hands. Unfortunately, my skillset does not lend itself to this style of climbing. I struggle to identify sections of the route where I can let go with both hands, or where I should climb feet first.
Challenges within our own field of expertise can leave us frustrated and disheartened, when we struggle with a feat that we “should” be capable of performing. However, these obstacles offer unique opportunities to grow within our field. Likely, improvement in one area of our trade can only help us in our given specialty.
With this in mind, I tried to learn all I could about roof climbing in Turkey from my friend and fellow visiting American climber, Heather Weidner. I observed Heather’s seemingly effortless roof maneuvers. She gracefully twisted around the same stalactites I had tried to climb over. Whereas I saw a blank section of rock with no holds, save a 90 degree angle I couldn’t possibly grab, Heather saw an opportunity to “knee bar” and let go with her hands. After a few weeks of Heather’s instruction, I felt more comfortable identifying rests and tricky movements. What once felt impossible suddenly didn’t seem so unreasonable.
This is why I love to climb. Each route offers a new obstacle, a new chance to learn, and a fresh start. Thanks for showing me the way through the roofs, Heather!
Did you know that women and girls make up 70 percent of the world’s 1 billion poorest people? Or that a child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5? These are statistics from CARE, a Lead Now supported organization that helps the poorest communities in the world unleash their full potential. Help Lead Now support CARE by donating online at http://www.crowdrise.com/leadnowturkey. Contribute $27 or more for a chance to win a Marmot two-person tent!
To get involved and donate online to help, visit Crowdrise.
Check back next month for a video and update about Paige’s next location. And stay tuned for the video of Paige’s time in Turkey! FitnessMagazine.com, with thanks to Marmot and Louder Than 11, will have the first-look exclusive video .
Written on January 13, 2014 at 9:55 am , by Guest Blogger
Paige climbed in India to support Apne Aap Women Worldwide, which works to combat sexual exploitation of women and girls. Help Paige raise $10,000 for Apne Aap on her Crowdrise page and don’t miss this bonus video from Louder Than 11 about the three million women currently trapped in prostitution.
By Paige Claassen
In our society, we strive towards a similar ideal. Whether that comes in the form of a high ranking, high paying job, a slender waist, or elegant clothes, the model women of magazines all look much the same. We’re praised for creating our own paths and for defining ourselves as individuals; but if we step too far outside the box, our motives might be questioned. I, for example, am currently traveling around the world to rock climb. I’m not earning a salary, I haven’t worn makeup or fixed my hair in months, and I don’t have a permanent home. The path I’m taking is not straight, it’s not predictable, and I don’t know what’s around the next bend.
I spent the month of December in India, and my goal was to climb the hardest route in India, called Ganesh and graded 5.14a. Unfortunately, the hot Indian sun beat down on Ganesh all day, making it nearly impossible to climb. I woke up at 5 a.m. each day to put in my attempts before the sun rose at 7 a.m. My day ended at 9 a.m., when I walked away from the cliff, dripping in sweat, hair disheveled, and frustrated with my efforts. This route lent itself better to a male’s strengths. The moves were long and powerful and I would need to channel all my strength and motivation to complete this climb.
Meanwhile, India offered a few additional obstacles of its own. The small, dusty town I visited had a reputation for inflicting the dreaded traveller’s diarrhea on visiting foreigners (which I did not avoid). A high risk of malaria in the region also had me taking preventative medication, rumored to have a variety of unpleasant side effects. Oily food, few fresh fruits and vegetables, and no opportunities to run or cross train provided further fitness challenges.
But I had traveled all this way for one route, which was one of the best in the world. I knew I was capable. So with that determination, the matter was settled. I punched through the long moves that a girl isn’t supposed to be capable of doing. I finished the route, and I finished it before the boys. A little extra icing on the cake!
I realized that my path, with all its turns and unknowns and new challenges each month, is a path of choices. Sure, India wasn’t the most comfortable month of travel, but it was a month I’ll never forget. The sites I saw, the people, and the colors each left their own special imprint in my mind and opened my eyes to a new world.
Part of that world is beautiful, but deep scars lay behind the beauty. Lead Now’s non-profit partner in India, Apne Aap, offered a glimpse into the struggles many women in India face. Apne Aap says that “every year, nearly two million people are trafficked for sexual exploitation; of these, the vast majority are female, and half are aged 12-16.” This is a statistic I can’t even begin to grasp, but I want to do what I can in reducing that figure so that other women can have the choices that I enjoy day to day. Join me by donating online at http://www.crowdrise.com/leadnowtourindia
To get involved and donate online to help combat sexual exploitation, visit Crowdrise.
Check back next month for a video and update about Paige’s next location. And stay tuned for the video of Paige’s time in India! FitnessMagazine.com, with thanks to Marmot and Louder Than 11, will have the first-look exclusive video .
Written on December 23, 2013 at 10:00 am , by Guest Blogger
Paige climbed in China to support the Colorado flood relief efforts of Foothills United Way. Foothills United Way has established the ‘Foothills Flood Relief Fund’ in response to the impact of the severe flooding across Colorado’s Front Range. The funds raised through this effort will be used toward health and human services for those affected by the flooding in Boulder and Broomfield counties. Help Paige raise $10,000 for Foothills United Way on her Crowdrise page. Donate $27 or more and you’ll be entered into a monthly raffle to win a Marmot tent!
By Paige Claassen
China can be an intimidating place for foreigners. I remember visiting Beijing eight years ago for the Youth World Championships of rock climbing. Half of the US team suffered from either food poisoning from local restaurants or sore throats from the pollution. As a result, America’s best young climbers relied on Pizza Hut for their pre-competition fuel. The situation was less than ideal.
Memories of my first time in China littered my mind as I drove up to the cliff in Yangshuo last month. Upon arriving, I looked down the cliff line to see a young woman my age bounding around, hanging from trees, and performing calisthenics warm ups. I’ve learned over the past few months of travel that I have to make new friends everywhere I go. I wanted this girl to be my new friend.
Xiao Ting, or simply Ting as I called her, welcomed me into her world. Rock climbing remains a severely male dominated sport in China, so Ting was as eager to meet another motivated female climber as I was to find a companion I could climb and laugh with. Ting’s lively personality meshed perfectly with my eagerness to embrace this new environment, and over the following three weeks our friendship grew.
Ting taught me her warm up calisthenics (actually a great ab workout!). She pointed out routes she thought I might like. She admitted that she tried harder when climbing with other women because she felt more driven to push herself as an individual rather than rely on her boyfriend Abond (arguably China’s best climber). Aside from climbing, Ting and I shared an interest in food and nutrition. She wanted to learn to bake western style cakes, so I shared some of my favorite recipe sites with her (I’m a big Smitten Kitchen fan!). In return, Ting introduced me to a new food I can only describe as a collagen rich granola bar, containing sesame seeds, goji berries, nuts, and a few unfamiliar ingredients. She explained that in the winter, she puts the homemade mixture in hot water to make a sort of porridge that is good for digestion after meals and smooth skin.
These little tidbits from another young, motivated, and energetic woman made China comfortable. After five months of international travel, I needed a good dose of laughter with a girlfriend. I think the comfort I felt from Ting helped me achieve two of the more difficult routes I have ever completed. One even required me to climb upside down out a horizontal roof. Thanks for the inspiration Ting, I’m thankful to have you as a new friend.
To get involved and donate online to help the Colorado Flood Recovery efforts, visit leadnowtourcoloradoflood.
Check back next month for a video and update about Paige’s next location. And stay tuned for the video of Paige’s time in China! FitnessMagazine.com, with thanks to Marmot and Louder Than 11, will have the first-look exclusive video .
Related: Lead Now Tour Main Page
Written on October 15, 2013 at 1:07 pm , by Guest Blogger
Rock climber Paige Claassen recaps her second 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
We’re all beginners at some point or another. Whether we’re going to a zumba class for the first time or running our first marathon, initially we feel slightly unsure of ourselves. While in Italy on the third stop of the Marmot Lead Now tour, I found myself far from my comfort zone, standing below an intimidating 2,000-foot tall cliff in the Italian Alps. In order to explain my experience, I need to provide a few technical details about rock climbing…
Typically, I sport climb, which means I use a rope and secure myself to pre-existing pieces of equipment on the wall…so no matter where or how often I fall, I’m completely safe. On this particular day in the Alps, I was about to attempt an entirely different objective. This route was 60 times taller than anything I’d ever climbed before, and there were very few pieces of pre existing equipment on the wall. In some places, the route would require me to place my own “temporary” equipment, a concept with which I had little experience, despite my thirteen years of rock climbing.
Falling was not an option, or at least not a preferable option, on this route. If I fell, my equipment would prevent death, but I would likely face serious injuries. On the bright side, this route was far easier in physical difficulty than the routes I’m accustomed to climbing, so I felt confident in my strength. While from the description this may sound like an unwise method of climbing, “multi pitch” climbing as it is called is actually a very popular approach, as it’s the only way to ascend walls taller than 100 or so feet.
I set off towards the summit with an experienced partner whom I trusted, and who was willing to mentor me through new strategies. I learned how to move quickly and efficiently, how to place and trust temporary equipment, and how to ignore the pain in my feet from wearing climbing shoes all day long. After about six hours of climbing, my partner and I reached the final stretch of climbing for the day. I felt accomplished in an entirely new way.
I stood on top of the summit’s spire, gazing at the beautiful scenery 2,000 feet below me and took a deep breath of that mountain air. I had overcome my fears, and the reward was great. While I prefer to attempt climbs that challenge my physical limits, this climb presented a mental challenge. At the end of the day, I believe this is why we try new things. Attempting a feat we’ve never tried before stimulates not only our muscles but also our minds, allowing us to grow in strength, in confidence, and in aptitude.
What new challenge do you want to try?
To get involved and donate online to Paige’s cause in Italy, Save the Children, visit http://www.crowdrise.com/LeadnowtourItaly.
Check back next month for a video and update about Location #4. And stay tuned for the video of Paige’s time in Italy. FitnessMagazine.com, with thanks to Marmot and Louder Than 11, will have the first-look exclusive video .
Related: Lead Now Tour Main Page