At Moja, we aren’t sure if we’ve spoken with someone who is more in love with rock climbing than Ann Raber. In this week’s Climber Spotlight, we learn about how Ann’s life has been completely guided and transformed by our sport.
How did you get started with climbing? Tell us about the early days of your climbing career.
I started climbing in Austin, Texas in late 2005. I had my first climbing birthday a few months into it, and I’ve gone climbing every birthday since.
I had just moved to a new town with my new husband, and was looking for a way to make some girlfriends. I had also—and this is kind of a weird part I don’t often talk about—I had just cut ties with a culty sort of youth group I’d been involved in one way or another since high school.
I was feeling very lost. Climbing was so far outside that world, the people were so different, it was unnerving at first. Sometimes I think I fell deep into climbing with that same culty energy and neediness. Like that song, check out any time you like but … [Hotel California, The Eagles].
Anyway, I started climbing all the time immediately (like I said, desperation). All the friends I made were climbers, I would befriend anyone who was motivated to go out. I started with climbing on short, powerful limestone sport routes, and that’s mainly all I did.
The gym and this granite area called Enchanted Rock were smaller aspects at that point, and I don’t think bouldering was really on my radar. I went to El Potrero Chico with some Austin friends that first year.
Related: Climbing Destination Guide: El Potrero Chico, Mexico
I ended up spending a lot of time there for the next two or three years, doing the massive, moderate multi-pitch sport routes. I made some great memories and lasting bonds with my partners in Potrero. That’s the place where I started to really understand what climbing would be all about in my life.
Dealing with the worst, most annoying and inconvenient aspects of my personality, the patience and humanity of others, and how to shut up, in my mind and out my mouth, which I will demonstrate for you now.
Tell us about your current life … Are you climbing a lot? Working on any projects? What are you the most psyched on right now (doesn’t have to be climbing-related)?
At the moment I’m in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I’m taking a month long Thai massage course. I’ve been wanting to do this for a few years, and it’s been wonderful. Southeast Asia is always hard I think, and being in a big city it’s just kind of a grind sometimes. A very spicy, sweet, cheap, hot, humid grind.
Before this, I was in New Zealand for three weeks climbing at Castle Hill Basin and Mt. Cook, and in two weeks I’m going to Rocklands, South Africa. So it’s turning into a real Eat, Pray, Love kind of summer.
I had a terrible finger injury this spring, and planned to go to New Zealand as a test of my recovery. The climbing there is quite wrestle-y, so I could try good problems without relying on my fingers so much. It went well. I’m pain free now, and slowly building strength back in the digits.
Thailand isn’t a climbing trip. I’ve climbed here in the past, both in the South where the very popular crags are and here in the Chiang Mai area, but this course I’m in is full time so sweating out my calves in the jungle clipping bolts isn’t a priority.
I tried to connect with some local climbers but it hasn’t worked out, which is fine. You can do these tours to climb at local areas, but it’s pricey. There’s a small but well concieved bouldering gym here. I have been going four nights a week to do a long moderate circuit, a beastmaker workout, and a campus session. The gym is basically a covered patio, and it’s very very hot.
All of that is to prepare for Rocklands, which was a late addition to the summer plan. It will be my second trip there … I pretty much hated it the first time. But I love my boyfriend, and he wants to go back, so I’m excited.
My goal for Rocklands is to try things that are at or beyond my max of difficulty; march to the same two things every day, and leave having sent nothing. I tend to be very volume-oriented on trips of a month or less. I get greedy for ticks and stick to lines I know I can finish. I want to move on from that attitude, because it can be a place to hide out in fear, like I know I can do a few V9s and that’s good enough woo hoo.
Often at the end of a trip, I try something very hard and I’m like darn, I could have put this together if I tried it more days. So in Rocklands, which is such a hard place mentally anyway, I’m saying fuggetaboutit! Only hard things, only real challenges that might very well not go for me in the time alloted. I don’t need an external confidence boost. I’m psyched to just give up the notion of sending and try more.
I’m also going to try and be friendly, because I find it a hard scene socially. These goals may somewhat work against each other.
Tell us about one of your proudest moments in climbing.
Sending Power of Silence (V10, Hueco Tanks). That problem gets a lot of respect from a lot of people I respect. Doing it meant so much to me, it still does. It’s, for me, probably the most important climb I’ve done and will ever do—in terms of finding some mastery of movement on rock in a place I love. That was last December, so everything from then on is just gravy really …
Related: Climbing Destination Guide: Hueco Tanks, TX
Tell us about one of your not-so proud moments in climbing.
I was hanging out a lot with a friend of mine who throws huge wobblers, and she was sending hard and people (guys) seemed to like her, so I decided I would try throwing shit storm wobblers too, then maybe I could get guys and send hard.
So I’m trying to do, like, Hector in a Blender (V7, Hueco Tanks) with my friends Vinny, Cody, another guy named Cody, Merrick Ales, and Tim—and these guys are super mellow—just enjoying their vacation, a fun, chill scene. And Hector in a Blender isn’t happening for me. And I let one loose. Screaming, shoe throwing, total psycho stuff, crying, “fuck this, fuck you,” and we’re like, on a tour.
So there are other people around. Turns out wobblers don’t look so cute on me. All my friends walk off except for Tim, who stood there barely concealing his eyeroll. Anyway, if you’re reading this guys, I’m so sorry for acting like that on Hector in a Blender in 2009. Now I just cry quietly in a corner until I’m ready to send.
If you could give one piece of advice to a beginner climber, what would it be?
Leave the hangboards alone and don’t utter the t-word for at least 5 years. Also, be picky about your shoes. We live in a gilded age of climbing shoe design and there is no reason to be going along with what they sell at your gym or what the strong folks are wearing on Instagram.
Chances are they didn’t pay for their shoes and could climb 5.13 in a pair of keds anyway. Keep looking until you find one that makes your feet feel comfortable and strong. Then buy like five pairs before they jack up the price or discontinue it. True story.
Ann crushing Cabrone (5.13a):
All photo credits: Ann Raber
Ann is supported by Climb Tech and Yama Climbing. Thanks Ann, for sharing your inspiring story and perspective!