Sideline Stories: Noah Kleiner, Climber, Equinox Guiding Services

I feel nervous, stressed and scared. If we were climbing right now I’d be totally chilled out. Put me in front of 250 people and my heart rate sky rockets. 

Climbing is not just a sport for me. It’s my livelihood, my focus and the thing I want to do most in the world. I don’t always view myself as a climber but more of a teacher. I share the passion of myself and the sport I love with the world. The perception of what I do is always fear based. The perceived risk that I see everyday sometimes smacks you upside the head. Not only the fear but also the risk involved. In guiding there are two kinds of risk, perceived risk and actual risk. As a guide I’m always trying to have my clients experience the perceived risk. When the actual risk comes into play it usually means it’s time to bail!

I grew up in Union, Maine, my mother was an art teacher and my Dad was a Maine guide. My childhood from the outside was perfect, adventures had by all and lots of things to do! The actuality was much different. Some parts of me still live in fear. I know this is a hard thing to grasp given my career choice. But there are parts of me that see fear and those parts that haven’t seen the light of day in a long time. 

In high school I went on an Outward Bound trip that changed my world. We spent two weeks hiking, climbing and canoeing around Moosehead Lake.  I remember getting lowered down the cliff being terrified that my belayer was going to drop me. Trusting others was so hard. As I moved off to College of the Atlantic I chose a rock climbing curse as my orientation week. We spent time in Acadia in and around the cliffs. I was hooked. It’s all I wanted to do from then on every chance I got was a chance to be climbing.  

This was a big shift for me. It was the beginning of recognizing that I knew what I was doing. That I could stay calm under pressure. That my mind was my biggest obstacle in climbing and in life. My thought process started to shift. My climbing started to excel. 

Fear: False evidence appearing real. Let’s look at the dynamic nature of this. In my mind’s eye, climbing had always been terrifying. I would get up on the wall and my whole body would shake. I would not be able to trust anything, the rope, the humans, the anchor -anything. The constant stream of what ifs started flowing through my head. It all depended on many factors for me. Who was belaying me. What I had for breakfast. If it was wet. Any chance to bail on a climbing trip and I would throw in the towel. As I started waking up, I started meditating every day. I started coming out of my disassociation that I had learned in childhood. I started this speech by demonstrating the profound effect of labeling my feelings. By announcing this and being seen it allows the feeling to dissipate. 

The hardest part for me is actually labeling the feeling of what it is. Noticing it in its purity. I’ve gained different behaviors that allow me to not experience the exact feeling. Instead of reacting with a habitual one, of shutting down, anger or running away. When I label these feelings it’s almost like calling it out. Naming it shines a light on the feeling and blurs the lines of its effect on me. You can practice this on your own. 

Close your eyes. 

Picture your deepest fear. 

Whatever it is, imagine it in front of you. 

Now, notice what your body is doing. Scan your body from your sweaty feet to your shaking hands. Feel that feeling. 

Now shift you’re thinking to the most beautiful place in the world to you. Open your eyes and come back to the world.

How do you feel?

We just reprogrammed your brain.

This is where the letting go process takes root. We are replacing the fear with a good feeling. Letting go is not for the faint of heart. It involves looking deeply at all the parts inside and coming up against them in a big way. This is the path of the warrior. This facing of fear, of what frightens you. If we sat at home everyday we would never learn what we actually are capable of. This builds grit, perseverance and resiliency. My goal was never to be the best climber in the world. The challenge of overcoming the fear and walking away each time, being more aware of myself and my own needs was staggering. This fact kept me coming back. 

The parallels to my life and climbing are exponential. I see how my mental game was part of my climbing all along. I can see how these two prominent signposts in my life merge and blend as I dive deep into learning and reflecting on my life so far. I am not perfect. I’ve made mistakes, I am human, but I pick myself back up each time and try again. Come back to the sport I love, come back to the moment I can change. Dwelling on the past doesn’t serve me. Fantasizing about what could be also won’t help me. This moment. This one right here. You listening to me talk about my life and sharing about what’s possible if I just pay attention. That is the solution. I choose this forever. 

Today, I am giving back to what was given to me. Through Equinox Guiding Service I teach these skills in a way that brings them to the everyday person. As well as to the local youth in our community, alongside other community members, bringing climbing and the challenges associated with it to the next generation. Inspiring them also to face the difficulties in life head-on and know they will come out the other side changed, but resilient for the next one.

Gratitude for this life is not a big enough word for what it has given me. I continue to grow and learn and challenge myself in the mental realm, challenging my beliefs but accepting the reality of the mountains in front of me. Before climbing, there was a mountain; while climbing, there is still a mountain; after climbing the mountain is still there. I live this every day and strive to see it for what it is. Life.