Meet The Wild Things: Rebecca Ross
This month we’re getting to know the stories behind the faces in Krystle Wright’s latest film, Where The Wild Things Keep Playing, an ode to the athletes who are unapologetically pursuing their outdoor adventures—without changing a thing.
I’ve heard people say, “I could never be a rock climber—I’m too afraid of heights!” But that’s exactly why Rebecca Ross of Portland, Ore., got into the sport. “My primary passion is mountaineering,” she says. “However, I took on rock climbing to help get over my fear of heights and expand beyond my limitations by being capable to tackle alpine objectives.”
For Ross, pushing into discomfort has yielded results—like being able to lead a team to the summit of Mexico’s Pico de Orizaba, above 18,000 feet. Growing up in a remote small town in central California, Ross says she was engaged in the outdoors from a young age, and that zest for adventuring in the outdoors has stuck with her. This year, she’s setting her sights on climbing Denali and leading an expedition funded through the American Alpine Club to climb three peaks in Mongolia in 2020.
You can see Ross climbing Mount Hood in Where The Wild Things Keep Playing. We chatted with her about the challenges and rewards of unabashedly pursuing a passion for outdoor adventure. Here’s what she said.
On choosing to do what scares you.
“I found myself always struggling with my gripping fear of heights that had me paralyzed in my tracks on more than a few occasions,” she says. “Other moments I found myself hesitating to join specific climbs because I questioned my capabilities as a climber—I still struggle with confidence, but I try to purposefully choose climbs that scare me a little to help me get over my fears. Now, every time I do a progressively harder climb, I realize how far I've come, which gets me so excited to see how far I go.”
And the fear of unrealized potential.
“My biggest fear is not fully realizing my potential,” Ross says. “I have a laundry list of small fears that keep me from really being great. I try hard to overcome as many as I can, but I sometimes think that because I got a late start in climbing, I will always be more reserved and cautious when climbing. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does tend to hold me back. It's tough watching both up and coming, and seasoned climbers tackle some amazing objectives, knowing that my fears are possibly holding me back. But that's ok. I have to do things at my own pace and focus on overcoming my weaknesses. It's all about the journey and so far it’s been incredible.”
On passion outweighing doubt.
“My biggest personal doubt is trusting my abilities,” Ross says. “Technical skills don't come naturally to me, and that has caused me to question whether or not climbing is something I should really be engaged in, since it's already a dangerous sport. But luckily my passion for being in the mountains triumphs all of my doubts. I've come to terms that I have to try a bit harder to retain information on skills like setting up a Z-pulley system, or converting a 3:1 into a 5:1 during a crevasse rescue or defeating the plaquette in a rock climbing rescue scenario.”
And learning to trust herself and her skills.
“I recently discovered that when I find myself in situations that require me to be calm and take action, everything I've learned goes into momentum like muscle memory, it's pretty awesome. Now, I need to learn to stop being overly critical of myself and realize I am fully capable and deserve to be out there climbing.”
On how rock climbing has empowered her in other ways.
“Before climbing, I developed an eating disorder,” she says. “Thankfully, after being introduced to [the Mazama Basic Climbing Education Program] it dawned on me that I needed to be healthy and strong to climb. I didn't want to put myself or others at risk. Since then, I lead a much healthier lifestyle because I want to be mentally and physically capable of climbing for as long as possible. It has made me realize that I am incredibly strong and skilled, which transfers to nearly all aspects of my life—climbing has absolutely empowered me.”
On inspiring influences.
“Someone who indirectly encouraged me to take on international climbing objectives is Arlene Blum,” she says. “I read her book Breaking Trail and instantly knew I wanted to be like her. It helped that her first mountain was Mt. Adams, which was also my first real summit. Another rad lady is Lizzy VanPatten, who is the founder of She Moves Mountains. I took her two-day trad clinic out at Smith Rock and was blown away by her confidence, her skills, and ambitions—she's a force to be reckoned with. Lastly, but certainly not least, would be my mom, who passed away from Cancer when I was 19. I wouldn't be the person I am today without her influence; her words of wisdom and encouragement will always stay with me. These women in my life and countless others have all had an impact in my life to motivate me to keep doing what I love.”
On creating balance between passions.
“I have noticed that sometimes climbing has become such a big part of my life that at times, I've felt guilty pursuing activities that aren't somehow related,” she says. “So, now, I've been focused on creating balance, pursuing a meaningful career in international community health while still actively engaging in my passion for climbing, a win-win.”
Photos by Alper Günay and Nathan Kaul.