You know something's a part of your identity when your prom-posal is centered around it. No one was surprised, then, when Emma Briggs, a high school senior and amateur outdoor rock climber, received a poster from her date with the pun: "It would rock if you went to prom with me!"
Emma had never been very quiet about her love for climbing. Her Instagram is devoid of the typical group shots, Starbucks cups, and party pics; instead she has death-defying shots of her on a cliff anywhere from Blowing Rock to British Columbia.
Rock climbing might seem like an unusual passion for a teenage girl in central North Carolina. Luckily, her father, Emil Briggs, had already been climbing for twenty-five years before Emma took an interest four years ago.
Emil Briggs is a research scientist in N.C. State's physics department by day, but by night—well, he's sleeping—but by weekend, he's hauling gear up a mountain with his seventeen-year old daughter.
So how does a Triangle physicist take up outdoor rock climbing?
Two decades ago, he says, "me and my wife went on a trip to Colorado, and while we were there, we saw some people rock climbing. And I looked at it and went, 'That looks interesting.'"
That was all it took: he and his wife ventured into climbing soon after, with little idea what they were actually doing.
His entry into the sport was atypical, especially back then, before indoor rock climbing exploded. Climbing takes training, and it seems to require an experienced mentor. And while the rise of indoor climbing has allowed more novices to enter the climbing world, inexperience out on the mountain poses considerable safety concerns.
"It's actually a big issue," says Emma, "because there used to be, like, a very tight-knit community, and people knew everyone that climbed, and now so many other people are just going out with, like, no knowledge."
It's not that new members are unwelcome. But new climbers who are transitioning from a few indoor sessions to scaling mountains in Boone are putting themselves in danger, Emil says.
That's something he wants to fix, one generation at a time.
"My part is, I take a lot of the younger kids out climbing, because they're friends with my daughter, and I try to teach them things, proper safety and ethics, how you behave, and how you can keep people safe," he says. "Because, as I know, being friends with Emma means a request to try climbing at least monthly, despite her warnings about proper experience."
But Emil doesn't mind—for both him and his daughter, climbing serves as a bonding opportunity. "I certainly see a lot of friends with their kids, they don't actually have much in common," says Emil. "Sometimes parents have to push their kids into doing something. With climbing, that was never the case with Emma."
Emma says it's not just the bonding with her father that she holds dear. "I would say half the reason I climb is for the community. It's just because, well, there's the older generation, which is amazing, and they're all like-minded people that come together to do this one thing." After a look from her father, she laughs, thinking about her rock-climbing peers and boyfriend. "And I have the younger generation, which is really fun, so it's like, my age that all are super passionate about protecting the environment, going outside, climbing rocks, and so it's really nice to go and hang out and be with people you are similar to. And at [school] I don't get that at all."
If those people sound like your kind of people, you're in luck: getting started is way less daunting than it sounds, the Briggses say.
They first and foremost recommend taking classes at a local indoor rock climbing gym. There are courses available to transition climbers from indoor to outdoor; the trick, they say, is that you have to be patient and honest with yourself about your capabilities.
After all, one of the best things about climbing is that it requires no type of person; ability is not linked to gender, body type, height, or even the love of exercise.
As Emma puts it, "As long as you just want to get out and have fun and be in nature, you're gonna have a great time, and people are gonna accept you."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Go Climb a Rock"