7 Surprising Lessons from My First Climbing Trip “on Assignment”

The lens cap wouldn’t go back on. I was fumbling by the greyscale schist, turning ‘round the plastic piece like a steering wheel.

“Uhh, what the fuck,” I mumbled, confusedly, to myself. The circular pissant had started on the lens, I was sure of that, those two pinchy prongs, when squeezed, clearly released the cover from the concave portal. Then why won’t it go back in? I tried jamming it, clomp, clomp, clack, into the hole. 

Turns out the camera needed to be powered off in order for the lens to recede and the cap to fit in place. 

“Ah, just first day blunders, it’ll all be easy sailing from here!,” I reassured myself.


… 

I was recently commissioned to write about climbing at Rumney in New Hampshire, for—humbly—what is my first paid article, in real dollarspotentially… because the check hasn’t been cut yet. 

In order to complete the research and take photographs for the piece, I spent a few days on location. This article is about lessons learned, and mostly the mishaps, from my first climbing trip “on assignment.”



Rumney is the mecca of sport climbing in New England, a destination crag for rock scalers within a 5-hour drive radius. Québécoise? Sure thing. New Yorkers? No problem. Bostononians? Of course.

On good weather weekends the parking lots are stacked before the first Regular cup of Dunks and “crawlah” has been washed down by BPD.

Luckily, weekdays see lighter attendance, and less people to witness my flailing with the flagellating camera around my neck.


Lesson 1: Know How Your Equipment Works

No amount of editing was going to fix the blurred images.

Sitting at home the photo previewer showed one out of focus shot after another: A close up of rock here, faded climber in the background there; Censored cliff and a verdant tree wearing a liberal application of green blush; Oh this shot of my boot and dirt is crystal! 

Eventually I figured out the settings and how to target the focus. I also learned plenty of settings not to use!


Lesson 2: Get off the Ground

The most interesting shots were ones from non-traditional vantage points, like “soloing” a slab slate to grab some setting sun or tying in to a first bolt on an adjacent route in order to capture a climber up close.

The difficulty in framing climbing shots, aside from knowing how to use the camera, came down to not losing the climber in the frame. A fellow photographer I met there remarked on how easy it is for the climber to get lost, whether from the scale of the wall, the muted colors they are wearing, or from poor lighting. Getting closer and properly structuring the shot made a world of difference.


Lesson 3: Plan out the Shoot and Know What You Want to Capture

The next day my thighs felt leaden. I haven’t done much hiking lately, but in reality I scaled a few thousand feet of vertical over those days, often on steep inclines heading up and down to the different cliffs along Rattlesnake Mountain. Some areas are more than half an hour from the parking lot. 

Simply traveling to each locale took a few hours of the day, and time away from photographing.

At the wall, climbers can take a surprising amount of time “hanging out” on the cliff waiting for their next burn. While I took a few of these convalescent frames, they weren’t the epitome of an action shot. Add up travel time, stop and wheeze time, photographing (waiting around) and this became an all day excursion. 

I planned the types of shots I needed—action shots, lifestyle, and ambiance—and I knew generally the order with which I would go to each location. This helped keep me on target and set a route for the day.


Lesson 4: Pretend to Be Friendly and Nice so People Talk to You and Let You Take Photos of Them

Photos of big hunks of rock can be quite boring, lack scale, and generally leave one uninspired if you don’t showcase people demonstrating what’s possible (on them).

So, I had to try talking to people *groans* to see if I could photograph them while they did interesting things on these big hunks of rock. In the end this was less awkward than sitting there taking pictures and leaving without a word.


Lesson 5: Don’t Listen to Someone When They Say Not to Pay for Parking

This one is self-explanatory. Support the local park.


Lesson 6: Shooting Is One Half the Battle, Editing Makes a World of Difference

Do you need to amplify the purple longsleeve of the climber to make her pop out against the wall? Coming right up, alongside the bleaching backlighting! 

The editing process, thanks to a free online program, was instructive and useful. Turns out you can do quite a bit to manipulate a pic, from tinting people’s skin color to look like the Hulk to sandpapering away all the details to leave an image akin to squinting your eyes.

On the other hand, editing made too dark pictures turn out vibrantly, and things like cropping or manipulating contrast did wonders for highlighting the subject of the image. 


Lesson 7: Beats Working in a Coffee Shop, or Library, or at Home

The main challenge was wanting to climb more, which is really a difficulty I have most days.

It was only due to my herculean grit and vast reservoirs of restraint that I was able to complete the assignment relatively on time. And with that, my first paid piece and on assignment trip are officially in the books with maybe a check in the mail as my reward.

In the end, it was fun, and it was work, and I’d like to do more of it.


Photos by the author

An Italian Sabbatical & On Using What You Have to Tell Stories

Also, how adventure is really a mindset

This week centers around stories from people who decided to write their own adventure story, often by dramatically shifting their life’s path. The characters overcame self-doubts, fear, and other objections to find joy and understanding. Also super helpful tips on the very first things to think about when you start writing.



Opportunities

The Italian Sabbatical

Live like a local in the small village of Grottole. Four people, three months, one authentic rural experience.

Live and Write in Thailand

The Content Castle offers free accommodation + 2 meals/ day in exchange for writing 7,500 words per week (for their marketing clients).




What I’m Reading (& Watching)

Onwards and upwards

An uplifting video on turning 35, and all the beauty that comes with growing with family, friends, and the pursuit of what moves you.


On how to use what you have for a story

AC Shilton shares her story of transition from an endurance athlete to a farmer, and how that changed her perception of her own body.

“After giving up competitive running, cycling, and triathlon, I bought a farm in Tennessee. I didn’t know at the time how challenging—and life-affirming—growing my own food would be.”

How can you use your own struggles and redemption to tell a story?

On transporting human waste down the Colorado River and doing what you love

Sometimes it’s not about the money.

“Last year, according to a nationwide survey of incomes across the U.S., I made less money than a part-time doughnut fryer in Maryland and a hospital clown in New York.”

Fantastic writing and an excellent piece to dissect for storytelling.

How adventure is really a mindset

Tim Moss shares his week-long hitch-hiking adventure on a £100 budget.

“Too often we restrict ourselves, hold back on our dreams or rein in our aspirations with the perceived constraints of the world – time, commitments, lack of expertise or knowledge, money.”

What excuses might you be telling yourself?

Adventure travel predictions for 2019 

When thinking about your places in the travel writing world, it’s helpful to understand the larger context. ATTA shared their list of trends to look for in the coming years:

“The United Nations World Tourism Organization recently reported there were 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals in 2018, a 6 percent increase over 2017, and the organization predicts there will be a 3-4 percent increase in 2019”

“In 2017, the Global Wellness Institute reported only 7 percent of all leisure travel consisted of primarily wellness-focused trips, and adventure travel operators have an opportunity to fill this niche.”




On Writing

Former Guardian science editor, letters editor, arts editor and literary editor Tim Radford shares his tips for writing. Wide ranging insight and immediately practical.

Some highlights:

1. When you sit down to write, there is only one important person in your life. This is someone you will never meet, called a reader.

3. So the first sentence you write will be the most important sentence in your life.

10. So here is a rule. A story will only ever say one big thing.

11. Here is an observation. Don’t even start writing till you have decided what the one big thing is going to be, and then say it to yourself in just one sentence. 




The Arts

Illustration by Pete Lloyd

Say what you will, but Kerouac is one of my favorite authors. These illustrations by Pete Lloyd are fantastic.


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Out There / In Here, vol. 3
Main photo source: airbnb