Completely In Reach: Two Perspectives on a Life-Changing Rock Climbing Moment

No Barriers Warriors, climbing, veterans programsThe expedition was amazing for me.

I had never experienced rock climbing outside of a gym. But I could not have asked for a better group of people to learn from. The guides from Colorado Mountain School and the No Barriers team were amazing.

I was way out of my comfort zone.

The first time I attempted to climb, I got about 10 feet up and came back down. Rather than negativity I was met with high fives and constant encouragement from my sisters and the staff.

The last day was a true test for me. I was so tired from the trek up the mountain the day before and I was worried I couldn’t do it. Again, I didn’t make it far my first try. I was so mad at myself for quitting but was, again, continuously encouraged to try again. I did try again and I succeeded. The entire staff and my team were at the bottom cheering me on.

Best of all, I was met at the top by Ashley. Her quiet and calm voice kept me going up that rock and I could see how proud of me she was. I will never forget the people I met on this expedition and I know now that I can meet any challenge by remaining positive and remembering my No Barriers Teammates.

Michelle Cassabon – United States Air Force Veteran

I have been with a lot of people during their first rock climbing experience. Before, people tend to feel somewhere between completely psyched and completely terrified. It’s understandable, because you inevitably end up out of your comfort zone in a vertical place.

But climbing offers endless opportunities to push your limits, problem solve and build lifelong bonds with partners. In August 2015, a group of female veterans came together in the Rocky Mountains for our Colorado No Barriers Warriors Female Veteran Expedition. They all applied for different reasons and were looking for different things; but they were united by their service — and most of the team had never even considered rock climbing before.

Michelle, a veteran of the United States Air Force, came to the expedition with no previous climbing experience. On our first day, Michelle took quickly to tying knots and learning the basics. When it came time to give the wall a try, even with her initial hesitation, Michelle stepped up and gave it a shot. After a few tries, she found success at the top of a 30-foot wall.

The second climbing day presented new challenges: The climbing routes were only accessible by a steep trail and on the previous day, the team had completed a full day of hiking at altitude up to 10,800 feet. The routes here were also more than twice the length of those on the first day and more difficult.

On her first try, Michelle decided to come off the wall after climbing about 10 feet. She seemed discouraged and frustrated. She and I spoke about it in some nearby shade. It was clear to me that Michelle possessed everything inside her to complete this climb, even if it felt impossible to her in that moment. She just needed a boost to get there. We assembled a team to be that boost. I climbed the route and anchored in at the top. At the base, Michelle tied in and a small group of her fellow teammates gathered — all smiling and cheering her on.

As she climbed, I could hear one of the guides calling suggestions for foot placements while her teammates continued to shout out encouragement. As Michelle popped over a lip of the climb, hitting the halfway mark, she looked up to me. She looked tired and still hesitant, but she continued to climb faster and with more confidence as the rest of the team gathered at the base, their cheers growing louder.

When Michelle finally gave me a high five at the top, she had conquered more than just 80 vertical feet of rock. She had overcome her initial fears and her frustration, and saw the impossible was completely in reach.

Ashley Clement – Assistant Expedition Leader, No Barriers Warriors Program Coordinator