This past Wednesday, after only two and a half days in the office, Molly McCahan of Boulder, CO was feeling pretty down about life.
“I just couldn’t get up the energy or enthusiasm for anything,” she says. “Maybe it was all the sleep I lost over the weekend thanks to Frozen Dead Guy Days overlapping with daylight saving time, but jeez, I was just zapped. Life seemed devoid of meaning, I felt vaguely nauseous all the time but I wanted to eat everything in sight, I wanted to just sleep all the time…I just didn’t know what to do.”
There have been a significant number of studies since at least 2009 on the correlation between exposure to the outdoors and positive mental health. It appears that Ms. McCahan had been suffering from acute “spending too much time inside” depression.
“I was staring at my computer screen, asking myself what the point of it all was when I got a text from a climbing buddy of mine, asking me to join him for a climb outside in the afternoon. I agreed right away, knowing that anything might be better than looking at a damn computer screen any longer.”
Still, McCahan reports having had significant fears towards the prospect of climbing outside. “It’d been months since I’d climbed on real rocks, and it’s significantly different from climbing in the gym. For instance, the route you’re supposed to take isn’t just laid out for you in color-coded holds or tape, so you actually have to find the places where you put your hands. You have to read the rock, and that takes practice!”
She also reports that her climbing buddy, Travis, has significantly more experience than her with climbing, and so was able to assist her where necessary when it came to appropriate safety measures.
“Before I knew it,” she says, “I was at the top of the second pitch of Buried Treasure on Tonnere Tower having led the climb myself. There were one or two moments when I had to say to myself, ‘Molly, you’re alright.’ But then I was belaying Travis up, and I was able to take a moment to look out away from the rock on which I was perched on.”
That moment, she says, was almost indescribable.
“Something happened to me when I looked out across the canyon this afternoon. We were so high up, and then sun was setting gold on the rocks across from us. I could see Boulder Falls from where I was sitting, and hear the wind whipping through the Douglas Fir a little ways away. Suddenly this feeling washed over me…I don’t know how to describe it…it was almost as if this feeling came over me and I just knew I was where I was supposed to be.”
Some might call what McCahan experienced that afternoon a moment of fulfillment of her biophilia. It could also have been a return of her self efficacy- another reported benefit of being a rock climber. Some might even say it was the holy spirit of Gaia herself, but, despite any speculations one thing remains true: there is at least one girl in the mood whose mood is significantly better thanks to the natural world.