When Christmas 2004 rolled around, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a rock climber. I had been working at the REI store in Phoenix for six months, ecstatic to spend hours each week talking to customers about their adventures, learning about gear and getting paid for it. But when my coworkers in the camping and climbing sections of the store invited me to go climbing with them, I balked. All that specialized gear! Plus I wasn’t that keen on heights (wasn’t that normal?), and I barely had time as it was to do all the hiking and peak bagging I wanted to do.
Then I went back to my parents’ house in Iowa for the holidays and found a box under the tree for me, from my brother Chad. Inside was a 60-meter-long, 11mm-diameter BlueWater Enduro climbing rope: blue, black and green, uncoiled, never used. Chad had bought it the year before, then decided he wasn’t going to be a climber. So he piled it in a box and gave it to me. I mumbled “thanks,” like you do when you’re brothers and you wonder what your brother was thinking a few days before the holidays.
Back in Phoenix, I returned to work at REI with one less excuse to not go climbing. I told my coworker Dustin about the rope, and he said I might as well get some shoes and a harness, because the rope is the most expensive piece of climbing gear. So I did, and he took me out a couple times to try to teach me to climb. I was a slow learner and hated it, more terrified of heights than ever.
But a year later, then living in Colorado, something told me to try again. I convinced my friend Nick to buy climbing shoes and a harness, since I already had the expensive piece of gear, and we spent every available weekend exploring crags around Denver, sometimes climbing, often flailing and often falling. Something clicked this time, and I fell in love with the sharp immediacy of moving on rock, the absolute focus it required, and the accomplishment I felt when I clipped the chains at the top of a route.
For the next decade, I was obsessed: I tore around Colorado and the West climbing rock, eventually writing climbing stories for Climbing magazine, “The Dirtbag Diaries,” and other media. I climbed big walls in Zion, the Grand Teton, 300-foot hand cracks, desert sandstone, and granite in Switzerland, France and Norway. By 2012 I was a full-time adventure writer, and four years later published a book about how climbing changed my life. The whole time, even well after I had retired it, I carted around the rope Chad had given me that fateful Christmas.
When advance copies of my book, Sixty Meters to Anywhere, arrived from Mountaineers Books in April 2016, I knew what to do with that old rope. I cut it in half, burned the ends so they wouldn’t fray, coiled both halves, and shipped one to Chad, along with a copy of the book and a note thanking him for the rope. I guess you never know when a gift might change your life.
Check out these holiday gift ideas for gear to get them outdoors doing what they love.
Read more from Brendan Leonard.