Some people climb for glory. Some people climb for gold. Some people climb for a living, and some people climb to live. Sylvia Oliver is one of the latter, for whom in the last eighteen years climbing has not just been a hobby, but a way of life.
She fell in love with it after a few mountaineering trips with her late husband, “an old-time mountaineer,” and continues to pursue the heights in her sport.
“There’s a lot of stress in rock climbing, but it’s good stress, as opposed to the bad kind of stress you get at work.”
Currently, Oliver partakes in what she calls “controlled-risk rock climbing,” mostly sport-climbing when the weather is nice, and climbing in the gym a few days per week in the winter.
Climbing is something that has kept her family together, even during her daughter’s teen years. “It wasn’t tough to find time together because we were always climbing together and traveling to rock climbing destinations.”
Her favorite destinations include El Portrero Chico in Mexico and Skaha near Penticton in Canada, but she adds, “the wonderful thing about Spokane and Washington state is that within a six-hour radius, you’ve got any kind of rock climbing you could want.”
Shoes: Oliver recently bought a pair of La Sportive Testarosas, “the most aggressive shoes I’ve bought so far. For women, Five Ten makes some really good shoes, but the ones I really liked, they stopped making of course, so I got these and now they’re my favorite pair of shoes.”
Harness: Petzl’s Corax model. She loves the adjustable leg loops for climbing in cooler weather with more layers, and the fact that the straps are all doubled, so “it never comes undone.”
Helmet: Also Petzl.
Ropes: “When we started climbing, the standard was 11 millimeters (for rope thickness). Now we use a 10.2 mm rope, so there’s less bulk.” Her favorite rope is a bi-colored one she picked up on sale, because half of the length is one color and half is another color, so “it’s really, really helpful to know how much rope you’ve got left.”
Belay device: A Grigri self-locking belay device by Petzl. As a climber who’s been around the proverbial block a time or two, Oliver isn’t willing to skimp on safety. “It’s easy these days to start climbing in a gym where everything’s controlled, and people just don’t understand the risks when they go outside. We’ve seen people out there using those little carabiners you put your keys on to tie their top ropes.” Rounding out the hardware is the collection of locking carabiners and quick draws that any sport climber accumulates.
Clothes: “There are so many climbing clothes; I’m old enough that I don’t even care what it looks like. I just try to be prepared for whatever kind of weather I think I might encounter.”
Accessories: “Of course we don’t go anywhere without our first aid kit,” Oliver says. Also included in the old CamelBak she carries are her cell phone, sun protection, snacks, and coffee. That’s right, coffee: Starbucks Double Shots.
She usually takes along her stick clip, too, a device used to attach a rope to the first bolt on a climb where free-climbing up to the first anchor might be too high and risky.
“You can always push yourself one hold higher,” Oliver says.