“Climb she must” could be Jennifer Robinson’s motto, as she looked out toward the cliffs of the Gunks these past seven years, three of them as a climbing guide. “I’m seeking to understand it better,” she says of the mountain, and in doing so wants to pass that along to novice climbers.
A guide for Alpine Endeavors, a local company run by Marty Molitoris, Robinson is an SPI (single pitch instructor) — level one for the AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) — which, in essence has her teach climbing of the first 100-feet of a cliff. No more. “It’s the length of a rope, usually with four clients per one instructor, with each going up the 100-feet separately. The rope is anchored at the top, with me holding the other end as each client climbs by themselves. They’re tied into a harness for safety, and I’ll show them how to climb the rock-face. But it’s really up to the climber how they climb, looking for hand and foot holds. I’m just there to help them do that.”
Living in New Jersey and climbing in Pennsylvania, Robinson, a big-time runner, saw the Gunks one day with climbing friends and was hooked. “It was famous, considered the best climbing rock on the East Coast. I was looking up at the cliffs and just thought, ‘I can climb that’.” The guiding came later. But first getting to the nitty-gritty of it: why climb mountains and cliffs at all?
The obvious answer is the pre-Existentialist one the now-iconic British mountaineer of the 1920’s, George Mallory, gave years ago: “Because it’s there”, or that a friend gave me (to the question: “Why do you run?”) at the Father’s Day half-marathon run this year: “Asking that of a serious runner is like asking a musician, ‘why do you play music?'”
For Robinson, it’s kind-of a combination of both answers. One is the practical application of her knowledge of climbing, the other is her deep “respect for rock. It’s calming, peaceful to be near rock, it quiets my mind and allows me to climb it, to put myself into it…it’s a gift in a way,” she says, “and realizing that to get to that place of understanding I must understand the system of climbing, the ‘how things work’ of it, rationalizing my fear – of heights, falling – it’s a risk and a risk taken thing, if I’m going to get to that level of understanding…you can’t control everything,” adds Robinson.
Into risk adventure, Robinson relates a story of teaching/showing a photographer how to set up on a cliff in the Swiss Alps, who wanted to take pictures of “base-jumpers” (those that jump off high cliffs in the Alps in nothing but “squirrel suits” — “Not something I’m into myself,” smiles Robinson). “I showed him how to anchor himself into the side of the cliff to photograph the base jumpers flying by and to rappel himself down to safety…happily, it was a successful venture.”
Robinson’s “I can climb this” attitude has rubbed off on her children. Her oldest, a son 19, solo back-packed through Europe and Asia at 18; her daughter, 17, is a top Canadian Olympic snow-boarder; and her youngest daughter, 14, is an Alpine skier headed to Switzerland this Fall. “They’re adventurous,” laughs Robinson, with understatement. “It was the way they were raised and I guess genetics has something to do with it. They’re all naturally athletic, like myself, and I pushed them outdoors to go with my lifestyle. They really had no choice in it,” adds Robinson.
“Getting my level two certification soon, to be a rock guide, not just an SPI…it’s very challenging.”
I’m sure she’s up to it.