STORY — In 400 BC, Chinese watercolor painters depicted men climbing rocks.
In 1492, Antoine de Ville climbed Mont Inaccessible in southern France using techniques developed for sieging castles.
In 1893, two ranchers summited Devil’s Tower on the Fourth of July using wooden spikes driven into cracks and connected with rope.
And in 2013, city girl Katie Rahn climbed her first rock wall right here in Story.
“I was definitely truly scared, but you kind of have to live in the moment,” Rahn said. “I came all the way out here from Chicago, and I was presented with the opportunity, so I might as well just suck it up for the five minutes, be petrified, and do it. And when you’re up there, you do feel like you really accomplished something.”
While Rahn’s ascent of a beginner level 5.4 pitch may not make the rock climbing history books, it was a big deal to her and her loved ones.
“I’ll tell my Ma, and she’s not even going to believe it,” Rahn said.
Rahn was on South Piney Creek trail Thursday with her husband, Jason, and friend Juli Olson from Houston. The three friends were visiting junior high classmate Nick Dore who lives in Sheridan now.
“Before we came, we just said to Nick, ‘Show us Wyoming. We want to experience Wyoming,’” Jason Rahn said.
So Dore took his friends rock climbing, an activity he began to pursue last August.
The group was out with climbing instructor Marty McManus, who founded Story Climbing Guides, LLC, in November 2012. Story Climbing Guides is one of just a handful of permitted climbing guides in the Bighorn Mountains. McManus said the Bighorns are ripe with rock climbing venues including South Piney Creek, Tongue River Canyon, Steamboat Point, Black Tooth Mountain and other wilderness routes.
Sheridan College also offers an elective beginning rock climbing course as part of its outdoor leadership curriculum, Director of Health and Wellness Erin Nitschke said. The class is open to anyone in the community.
“There’s some really unbelievable rock climbing here in the Bighorns, and it’s really not taken advantage of,” Dore said. “Why not have another good recreational opportunity, you know?”
McManus is a licensed instructor with the American Mountain Guides Association and has been climbing for more than 20 years. Last fall, people began asking if he would teach them to climb and he decided to make it official by obtaining all the necessary permits and insurance over the winter. He offers individual and group lessons for all levels of climbers.
McManus said the age-old answer to why people look at a rock wall and decide to poke fingers and toes into miniscule holes dozens of feet above the ground in order to get to the top is: because it’s there.
“It’s kind of like setting a goal and achieving it, just on a much faster scale than a professional goal,” Jason Rahn said. “It’s like, ‘I see this rock. I’m going to climb it.’ And then once you reach the top, it’s like, ‘I did it.’ It’s a gratifying feeling.”
But, really, rock climbing is about more than just reaching the top of a slab of rock.
“For me, climbing is a break from the mundane,” McManus said. “It’s really like any of the finer arts, or artists and musicians probably experience the same thing, and that is while you’re climbing and as you’re on the wall, your fears and the normal, mundane world sort of passes away from you. The troubles and worries are gone, at least for the moment, and you’re really in the zone, in that space that is really something esoteric, something outside of yourself.”
And that is why, in 400 BC, and 1492, and 1893, people climbed rocks. And that is why city girl Katie Rahn climbed a rock in Story — even though her leg was “doing the Elvis,” as McManus puts it. The rock was there; her friends were there; and there’s something about climbing through mental road blocks to leave the worries of the world far below.