Triumph over fear

One area climber explains the exhilaration of taking on the vertical wall
Sunday, May 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:44 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

For Sean Richmond, rock climbing isn't just another hobby: It’s a way of life. When life is good, this means another chance to match wits with a vertical rock face. Since growing up in a most befitting place, the mountainous north-central town of Mountain Home, Ark., Richmond has had a passion for the sport.

“I absolutely love climbing. … I can’t really explain it,” he says. “There’s no reason really to climb. It’s the fact that you’re surrounded by the outdoors, the fact that you’re on a wall, scaling this vertical wall. You start at the bottom and work your way up to the top. It’s a different sort of challenge, and every climb poses a different challenge.”

Nestled in the Arkansas Ozarks, Richmond, who graduated in December with a double major in meteorology and mathematics from MU, grew up near a lake surrounded by bluffs. From the time he was 12 or 13, he says he would climb the bluffs to jump into the lake. While he can’t pinpoint an exact time when he can remember falling in love with the sport, he says these experiences are probably the root of his interest and acquired skill.

“Most people who climb once or twice get the bug,” he says. “When they go back a third time, they will get hooked. It kind of gets in your blood.”

Now, Richmond, 23, tries to climb every chance he gets. It’s not just the sense of challenge that exhilarates him, but also the sense of liberation and the inner reckoning with instinct and fear.

“I feel like it sets me free,” he says. “All the fear you have about falling, the illusion of fear, it has to be left on the ground. If it’s not, it builds up and builds up and that’s all you can think about.”

Once that fear is mastered, the reward is not only personal triumph over challenge and physical toil, but also the experience of some uniquely spectacular moments. Richmond remembers a particular climb in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Westcliffe, Colo., in 1997 when, after an arduous seven-hour climb, he and the other climbers were privy to one of nature’s supreme visual spectacles, a beautiful setting sun.

“This was a route, a traditional route, around 350 feet,” Richmond said. “... It took us about six or seven hours to do, and it was like, we’re out here in this mountain range extending all the way to the plains. Where we were climbing was actually really close to the plains. ... We were like 20 miles from the nearest road, and we could see the sun setting over the plains. It’s kind of hard to put the experience in words, because we’d been climbing for six hours.”

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