Interview: Natasha Barnes

posted by dpm on 09/10/2009

Sometimes Life Gets in the Way:

An Interview with Natasha Barnes

By Anthony Lapomardo

One second we will see climbers putting up big numbers and break-through ascents at an alarming rate.  The next they will drop off the face of the planet for several months leaving some to question why.  Our answer is simple, LIFE!

Natasha Barnes met LIFE. Between chiropractic school, miscellaneous injuries, and answering our pestering emails she has gotten back into the swing of climbing.  We borrowed a few minutes of her time to help reacquaint us with where she's been the last few months.


DPM:  Where have you been?
Natasha: I've been climbing in Yosemite Valley a lot the past two years. It's been amazing. Having been to a lot of different bouldering areas in the US and in Europe I think I can safely say that Yosemite offers some of the best bouldering in the world (and I'm not just talking about Camp 4). After winter I got a finger injury and got pretty busy with school. I am going to Chiropractic School in the Bay Area and its pretty intense and also a very heavy course load (45 hours a week). Most people don't realize it but chiropractic school is serious business. It's basically like going to med school but with an emphasis on the spine and neuromusculoskeletal system. Its not massage school. So it's been hard to find time to climb as much as I did before but I think I am starting to figure out a way to make it work.

DPM: You recently sustained some injury, what happened?  How has it affected your climbing?
Natasha: I got my little finger injury in January and that took me out of climbing for about 3 months. I still went to bouldering nationals in Colorado but I sucked because I couldn't crimp anything. That was a drag because I had been training for it and actually felt pretty strong before I got hurt. I am starting to notice a little pattern. About once a year for the last 4 years I have gotten a finger injury. It's a little bit frustrating to go through a recovery then slowly get back into it and eventually start feeling strong again only to get some sort of finger injury and repeat the process all over again. But on the other side of the coin I have learned a lot from it about climbing, my body, and recovery and how to stay happy. The barn may have burned down but now I can see the moon. For example, before I got my first finger injury (which was actually pretty serious) I had just won national championships and I was climbing stronger than ever. I was a pretty competitive climber, not in a bad way but I thrived on competition and training and on trying to climb as hard as possible no matter what and its all that mattered to me for a long time. After my finger got hurt I was forced to take a long time off to recover, about a year. When I started climbing again my reasons for climbing changed. I had a lot of time to stop and look around and reflect on things. I didn't want to try to climb something just because it was hard and crimpy; I wasn't obsessed with training anymore. I started to enjoy climbing just for climbing and for being outside in beautiful places and being with people who were fun to be around and I only wanted to climb fun (sometimes tall) beautiful lines the I would enjoy. I wanted to move and enjoy having a healthy injury free body. Of course I still had the desire to climb strong and to compete but it was different after that. Also my climbing style changed a little bit too. I became better at things that I had thought were my weaknesses and began to enjoy moves and holds that I never did before. So yes, it's been frustrating but it's been an unexpected learning experience. I don't recommend getting an injury but it's definitely changed the way I experience climbing.

Photo courtesy of Damon Corso

DPM: How has this changed your outlook?
Natasha: With my most recent injury (I swear I'm not injury prone...maybe just my fingers!) I got back into climbing by switching to routes as soon as I could climb again. It's been really fun. I am starting to figure out route climbing and it has been really exciting. It's so different and it's really a completely different sense of gratification when completing a route versus a boulder problem. I almost feel like I'm more invested when I put time and energy into a route and I have to work a lot harder mentally. Of course I will always love bouldering, but I am really liking the process of becoming a "route climber" and I am going to really try and savor it for as long as I can.

DPM:  Where have you been rehabing your finger?  Is it on rope?
Natasha: I've been getting out to the Trinity Arêtes which is in the very northern part of California. Its excellent steep limestone sport climbing (with tufas!!!) and easily the best that I've ever been on. I've never tried anything harder than 13a before outside so I've been pushing myself to try some harder things at the Arêtes. Nothing crazy because I've only gone out there a couple times but I did my first 13b/c called "If" in just a few tries, which for me it was really a breakthrough. After 10 years of being afraid to take lead falls I've finally started to get my head. "If" makes you commit to a dyno off of a tufa to a three finger little knob way above the bolt. Taking that whip was a big deal for me and that's really all it took for me to get a little more comfortable falling. I also went out to Donner for routes for the first time ever and it was really interesting granite sport climbing. Some of the climbs are hybrid sport/trad and really fun. I just recently got back from a trip to Squamish, BC and spent most of the time learning how to trad climb and did my first trad lead on Exasperator which was an amazing climb. I also did the Grand Wall and another route called Freeway. It was great climbing and a great experience. I am very interested in doing more.

DPM:  What are your plans for this season?
Natasha: This season I am planning on getting back to bouldering in Yosemite Valley and maybe even doing some trad routes there. I definitely have some unfinished business on the boulders in the Valley though so it will be nice to get back to that. I am going to try and keep climbing routes too and maybe compete in National Championships this year. I want to do everything. Hopefully I will end up very well rounded after the season is over.

DPM:  Who inspires you?
Natasha: My inspiration comes from climbing with people who are fun to be around, the desire to be outside in beautiful places and from climbing itself. The more I climb, the more I find I am inspired to climb.

DPM:  In your free time what consumes you other than climbing?
Natasha: I like to do a lot of reading, I like learning new things. I like knowing as much as possible about the world. I'm also just very busy with school so its kind of the only other thing I am currently devoting most of my time and energy to.