Seven boys scoffed as I faced the stone ascending 250 feet above me, the most immense climb I had ever done. Being the last climber of the day, all eyes were on me to finish efficiently. My lips pressed together tightly, my hair hung at my hips, and I considered backing out, but nevertheless, I persisted.
Making sure my chalk, water, and an emergency pocket knife hung around my waist, I tightened my ponytail swinging at my side, stretched my hands to the closest ledge, and began scaling the rock. As each muscle pulled my body higher and higher, I couldn’t help but feel how natural free-climbing was. In gyms, I would avoid climbing a 20-foot wall, but outside in the mountains, it was child’s play. My hands molded with the rocks as my grip secured each pull-up I conquered. The slow burning of my muscles stretching to the max was a feeling I not only loved, but looked forward to. These colossal rock mountains are where I am home.
But instead of birds sweetly singing, sounds of criticism chirped in my ears. Hoots of “hurry up” and “climb faster” bombarded my surroundings. Being the only girl in a climbing camp of boys, I was judged each day for my abilities. I had been climbing since the young age of seven, but the boys’ perception of my abilities made me feel like an imposter. After three long weeks, it was tiring trying to live up to their expectations. The people whom I had just met and would never see again made this once in a lifetime experience a living purgatory with every pessimistic perception. This frustration fueled my drive to climb higher, faster, and stronger than ever before. As I felt the air become thinner, their words floated out of my head and I focused on the feeling of freedom climbing gave me. The sunlight cascaded over the quartz as I saw the summit approach. Their words landed at my feet, and with my arms stretched to the sky, I stood upon the mountain’s peak.
The New Hampshire rolling ranges, with clouds parallel to the horizon, helped me overcome any insecurity I had before. My eyes glanced downwards as I looked at seven boys. The tormentors that had once seemed so massive, now appeared to be like insignificant specks below me. With my heart flying high, I began my descent down with every intention of taking my sweet time. I leaned back in my harness and started joyfully kicking down the wall. Suddenly, my rope became loose.
I don’t know how far I fell, but I felt my hair intertwine with a nearby clip. Quickly, my hands let go of the stone as I tried to untangle my locks. Like each negative belief the boys had of me, the knots became jumbled, and the only object I could focus on. Every time I tried to escape, my hair was pulled harder and harder from my scalp, until I couldn’t stand the pain.
With one hand gripped on my ponytail, I pulled the knife from my belt and started to shear my hair. A sigh of relief escaped when finally the tugging pain, and self-doubt vanished. My hair was now level with my ears, and joy returned as the natural freedom of belaying appeared once more. As I reached the bottom, I felt the usual dip as my feet settled on stable ground while statements of criticism turned to congratulations.
“What happened to your hair?” my instructor asked.
“It got caught, so I just cut it off with my pocket knife.”
I grinned and turned to see seven boys with their mouths locked in awe and eyes flickering with astonishment. Seven boys met my gaze as I unclipped from the mountain and strutted away with tremendous pride and shorter hair.