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The author and her husband, Jeremy Fields, roped together on the Vallee Blanche, Mont Blanc Range, France.
The author and her husband, Jeremy Fields, roped together on the Vallee Blanche, Mont Blanc Range, France.

It’s a frequent occurrence at the Fields household — my husband cueing up a climbing video for me to watch.

But this time but he was more excited than usual.

“This married couple is doing the ‘Fifty Classic Climbs of North America,'” the hub says, referring to the 1979 book. Many of the 50 are big, way over our heads.

More Field Notes

Jenn Fields blogs about Colorado’s great outdoors at

The video starts. The couple, Mark and Janelle Smiley, are climbing a route on the Diamond on Long’s Peak. They talk about how great it is to climb together, how they know each other so well, how they don’t have to tell each other about amazing experiences at the end of the day because they were together for them.

It resonates with us. It’s a no-brainer — marriage and climbing both demand an unshakeable partnership. But as I watch my husband go ga-ga Googling the scariest of the 50 climbs on the list, I realize that while the Smileys share their goals, the Fieldses might have differences.

“Um, instead of going to Alaska to get frostbite on the Moose’s Tooth, maybe we can just go sport climbing?” I say. “In Greece?”

Climbing with your spouse is a mixed blessing. You always have a partner — and he’s my favorite person to climb with. But it’s also easy to fall into the trap of doing things you’re not really psyched to do just to make your spouse happy.

Flipping through the latest issue of Climbing magazine, I landed on a story about Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, and in particular, a photo of a guy decked out in Gore-Tex with a glacier thousands of feet below. It looked cold and tiring and beautiful and epic.

There he is, I thought, my husband’s climbing avatar. If he could drop everything and go for it, that’s the type of climber he’d try to be.

I flipped a few pages ahead and found a girl taking an upside-down rest on some funky ripples of rock. Fun! She’s climbing hard. She’s wearing a tank top (read: not freezing). She’s in Spain — nice. I bet she has some snacks in her pack at the base of the crag (tapas!).

That’s me. My avatar has snacks and wears a tank top.

A few days later, the hub and I are at Lumpy Ridge north of Estes Park. The sun disappears, the wind kicks and I’m cold and impatient at my belay, wedged sideways in a crack narrower than my butt.

He’s eating up the climbing, the views, the elements. I wish I was eating anything.

On the descent, I drop F-bombs down the wall as I untangle the rope and free it from cracks and shrubs. He is psyched overall, but gives me the “there, there” look and pats my shoulder. I curse his climbing avatar on Baffin Island and think fondly of mine in Spain.

A few days after that, a flip: We’re bouldering. I suck, but don’t care — it’s fun to thrash and attempt the near-impossible. The hub quits bouldering early. He hates bouldering, says it always tweaks his shoulder, but I’d talked him into it, so he went.

On the way home, we talk about our climbing compatibility. We make little decisions that will make a big difference in both our marital and climbing harmony: he won’t go bouldering and I won’t go on the bigger climbs he’s planning this summer; we’ll climb everything in between together.

When we get home, I tear the photos of our avatars out of Climbing magazine, write our respective names on them and slap them on the fridge. Sharing a climbing life with your spouse is wonderful.

But you have to remember who your avatar is.

Jenn Fields’ Field Notes appears every Monday in the Colorado Daily.

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