Climbing extraordinary Paige Claassen finds balance on and off the wall

“’Paige Claassen decks on a 5.7′ probably wouldn’t be a big title,” joked Paige Claassen, one of the best climbers in the world, known for her many climbs on extremely difficult 5.14 routes and for her pursuit of reaching. the peak of his first 5.15.

Claassen and I were perched on the side of a large sandstone formation in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. We were hoping to prepare our first route of the day, baffled by the difficulty of the supposedly easy climb. Loose flakes on the rock and old runout protection bolts provided little comfort. Granted, we couldn’t get to the route we were planning to climb and so, we were there.

Paige Claassen. Photo credit: Spencer McKee.

At the age of 9, a shy Paige Claassen from Estes Park had started climbing with no way of knowing how much the sport would impact her life and the person she would become.

Climbing hit Paige a little differently from the other sporting adventures she had sampled in her short life, ones that hadn’t piqued her interest. Paige is a competitive person, but she wasn’t drawn to team sports like soccer or basketball. Much different, climbing gave Paige the opportunity to measure herself directly against herself.

Realizing that she had found an activity she enjoyed and excelled at, Paige’s parents trained a variety of renowned coaches in her hometown of Estes Park, including Michelle Hurni, Stephan Greenway and ultimately Mike Caldwell. , the father of famous Tommy Caldwell as a trainer. . Paige has been climbing the walls ever since.

Paige makes a rare ascent of The Fiend (5.13c), a double overhanging dihedral in Boulder's irons, first created by Dan Michael in 1987. Photo credit: Arjan de Kock.

Paige Claassen achieves a rare ascent of The Fiend (5.13c), a double dihedral overhanging in the irons of Boulder, first created by Dan Michael in 1987. Photo credit: Arjan de Kock.

For Paige, rock climbing quickly became a way to regain her self-confidence, allowing her to overcome her shyness and to forge a sense of identity and pride embedded in the sport. Once she was plugged into the local gym scene, Paige continued to develop as an athlete, rising through the ranks and reaching the top of increasingly difficult routes in competition and elsewhere.

And then one day last spring, Paige didn’t make it to the top.

By May, Paige had been in California for about a month, repeatedly returning to the base of a distant rock under a road called empath. The route was rated 5.15a and was more difficult than any route Paige had managed to climb to date.

Of course, Paige is no stranger to perseverance in the face of a formidable challenge. Starting in 2012, she will work on a route rated at 5.14b in Utah called “The Bleeding” for three years before earning her mark.

But this time in California it was different. A month on and off the Wall had begun to teach Paige much more than just what it would take to get to the top of that specific road.

“It’s cool to send, but there’s a lot to learn along the way,” Paige said, recalling empath as I furiously took notes amid the hordes of clumsy tourists.

Since then we had both descended safely from our precarious position on the rock face with the help of Sarah Janin from Colorado Mountain School at the relay, now looking for a better option.

“In life, we doubt ourselves a lot and we don’t know what we are capable of. Climbing is a way to discover what you are capable of. kind of a compass that lets you know who you are, ”Paige continued.

While Paige had spent a lot more time on other routes throughout her climbing career, her instincts made her take her foot off the gas when it came to empath. She came back to Colorado.

Paige Claassen.  Courtesy photo.

In June 2020, Paige Claassen sent Kryptonite, the first American 5.14d, to the Fortress of Solitude, first created by Tommy Caldwell in 1999. Photo credit: Arjan de Kock

Once a shy child who turned to rock climbing to provide direction in her life, Paige has since realized that rock climbing is no longer the only aspect of her life that pushes her forward productively.

After a month on the wall away from friends, family and other priorities, she couldn’t help but realize that she was performing better on the wall when these Distractions were kept nearby. While Paige once relied on rock climbing to provide the basis of her identity, her identity has since evolved into something beyond that, no longer being so strongly tied to quickdraws and rope.

The day Paige and I were in the Garden of the Gods, it was very crowded despite the thunderstorm clouds slowly forming over a not so distant Pikes Peak. After backing off the first climb we headed to a nearby route with less chance of a surprise slip and much newer bolts than we were previously trying to reach.

As Paige ascended the route with ease, a crowd gathered to admire her abilities, unaware that she was watching such a talented and accomplished professional climber that she is sponsored by well-known companies like Eddie Bauer and La Sportiva. Some of the curious onlookers asked about Paige and the sport of rock climbing, seemingly trapped in a trance as their eyes followed her to the top of the arrow-shaped formation.

According to Paige, she does her best to climb when rock climbing isn’t the only thing in her life – when there’s a balance there too.

In January 2020, just months before the coronavirus pandemic closed, Paige completed a lengthy project in South Africa with her nonprofit, Southern Africa Education Fund. After founding the organization in 2016, Paige will spend four years on a project that will eventually build eight classrooms and a playground in Aussenkehr, Namibia, a resource-limited village eight hours from the world’s largest city. close.

The new classrooms allowed the school of 850 students to switch to full days of class, instead of having to alternate morning and afternoon sessions due to limited space. The additional space would become even more important once the coronavirus pandemic hit, allowing the education center to remain open amid social distancing restrictions, now with more room for more students.

“We tend to focus on a goal and then achieving it becomes all that matters, but in doing so, it’s possible to lose sight of family and relationships and give back to the community,” Paige said, noting. that her commitment to the non-profit world is another way she has learned to bring more balance to her life. According to Paige, she sees this balance as something that makes her a better climber and a better person in every way.

Finally, our climbing group found a more private space at the Jardin des Dieux. Away from the crowds, we worked to get to the top of a more difficult route, possibly one of the most difficult routes my hands have ever touched.

With onlookers out of sight and on a route that presented some challenge, Paige’s eyes lit up as she plotted her climb. Soon Paige led a quick charge up, taking time to admire the facial features along the way. With his encouragement, I also made it to the top, mostly climbing up the wall between grueling moves that I found a bit out of reach.

Sarah takes over from Paige Claassen as she sets up a very dense road in the Colorado Springs Garden of the Gods.  Photo credit: Michael Imes.

Sarah Janin takes over from Paige Claassen as she begins to set up a hueco-heavy road in Colorado Springs’ Garden of the Gods. Photo credit: Michael Imes.

By this point, the distant storm clouds had drawn closer and our time together was drawing to a close. Daily chores once again pulled me out of nature and brought me back to my place behind a desk and three computer screens. We said goodbye and parted ways.

Thunder began to rumble in the distance as I made my way to my car, thinking about how I could put Paige Claassen’s story into words.

Once a shy child in search of a new sport, Paige found in rock climbing an inner strength that cannot be taught, eventually becoming strong enough to have a significant impact on the lives of many others far outside. of his sport. And it was this push outside of her sport that helped her become the dominant athlete she is today.

Without balance, some kind of undue pressure can seem to befall a singular goal and this pressure can become an obstacle that makes progress difficult. Yet with the balance in the picture, this pressure seems to be eased, allowing for a more natural pursuit of success.

That being said, it’s also crucial to note that balance didn’t just happen spontaneously in Paige’s life. She worked hard to find it and developed it over time. After all, balance in life doesn’t come naturally for the most part – it’s about those who are strong enough to put in the effort to build it for themselves. Paige Claassen is one of those people.