Published in RootsRated.
It’s still dark on the drive to the cliff, but the climbers in the car are already wide awake in anticipation of the morning’s session. Seattle-based climber Audrey Sniezek is behind the wheel, calmly steering as she chats with her partners—the “morning crew”, as they call themselves—en route to Little Si, their favorite sport-climbing crag. When they pull into the parking lot, theirs is the only car in sight.
With multiple 5.14s under her belt, Sniezek, 42, is one of the top female climbers in the country—and she gets it done while maintaining her career as a high-level software engineer. Hence the pre-dawn start just to climb at the local crag: It’s Sniezek’s way of fitting in the time she needs to stay on top of her game.
Sniezek has been climbing in the early mornings at little Si since 2005. “It’s the perfect training cliff, it’s relentless,” she says. “Every time I come here I learn something new about myself.” At this point she has ticked off many of the crag’s hardest routes, but Sniezek says she had been climbing for 10 years before she realized her full athletic potential—and figured out how to reach it while still balancing climbing with a demanding career.
RootsRated had the chance to talk with Sniezek to get her top tips for climbing at your best, even in the throes of a busy life. Here’s what she had to say.
1. Don’t be afraid to try.
For the decade Sniezek climbed, she says that coming to the crag to top-rope some 5.11s was plenty hard enough for her. “But I realized that if I wanted to see what my potential is, I needed to lead these climbs,” she says. “I needed to fall and to fail … I shifted my mindset, and it changed everything.”
Soon after, she was ticking off all of Little Si’s 5.12s. “Seeing what was possible, I decided to see how far I could take it,” she says. “Sometimes the biggest problem for people is holding themselves back.”
2. Commit to the sport.
More than anything, Sniezek’s secret to success might be found in her commitment to climbing, from her sessions with the morning crew to working out at the gym. “I’m very passionate about training,” Sniezek says. She spends three months of every year doing a regimented program.
“There are mornings it can be hard to motivate,” she says. “Make the commitment to yourself that you’re going to try … you’ll feel so much better about yourself just to be there.”
3. Be creative with your time.
Even if you want to take training seriously, it can be hard to find the time. This is how the morning crew began: While it was hard to get out of bed, getting out to the crag before the workday was the one time slot they had. Of course, everyone’s schedule is different. “You might have to look a little harder for them—or create them—but there are always opportunities [to climb],” Sniezek says. “Find a way.”
4. Enlist good support.
Whether it’s family, friends, or fellow climbers, “there’s nothing more motivating than to have someone in your corner who is pushing you a little,” Sniezek says. “Someone who’s saying, ‘This is really important to you, you made this commitment—go, get out of bed.’”
One of the main sources where Sniezek finds support is her morning crew. “Enlisting support is super critical. Good energy is so infectious,” she says. “People who are psyched are invaluable.”
5. Set appropriate goals.
Having specific goals to work toward will give you concrete benchmarks to see your progress. Sniezek stays motivated with both short- and long-term goals. “I’m always looking for things that are going to challenge me. That will inspire me.”
No matter how many routes you tick off, there will always be the next climb to tackle. “I want to feel like I’m pushing my limits, keeping things interesting, pushing the bar.”
6. Be adaptable.
Even if you try your hardest, sometimes life still throws a wrench in your plans. After splitting a tendon in her ankle while on a trail run earlier this year, Sniezek has had to adjust her plans so that she could recover from her injury. “This year has been really tough on me, because I had really big goals.”
At the same time, she keeps the bigger picture in mind amidst the short-term setbacks. “I’m not climbing at my peak right now, but I know I can bring myself back there,” she says. “I know what I need to do, so I’m not worried.”
7. Don’t forget to have fun.
Sniezek obviously takes her sport seriously, but at the same time it’s important to her that she doesn’t take it too seriously. Paradoxically, she says she could only start climbing at the higher grades once she took off the stress and convinced herself there was “no pressure to succeed or fail—it was just about having fun.”
“I push myself so hard with everything already—climbing is my escape,” she says. “I don’t care if I’m climbing 5.14 hard. It’s the thing I do to relax. Even if I’m trying hard, I don’t want the pressure to preform. I don’t want to make it serious.”
Sniezek found that sweet spot between climbing hard and having fun at the end of our morning’s session. She got on “Bust a Rhythm,” a route that she had never done before, feeling jittery and unsure she would make it to the top. As she continued upward she got into the flow, just enjoying the motions. “Then it was like the next thing I know, ‘Oh, I’m here already!’”
“It’s beautiful,” she says. “I mean, I’m in it for life.”