High above the Nevada desert, Gabe Irwin and Zak Horine stand on a ledge, blasted by wind. Their harnesses are clipped into bolts in the rock face. Having already climbed over 100 feet off the ground to the first anchor on the route, they prepare to climb even higher.
“There’s just this strange feeling when you put a piece of metal into a tiny crack in the rock, and you’re looking at the tiny ribbons that you are attached to you that’s supposed to catch you if you fall.” — Gabe Irwin
Horine takes the lead and inserts a small piece of metal into a crack in the rock. He then swiftly clips his climbing rope onto it. Irwin belays from the anchor below, and the small pieces of metal placed carefully along the route are the only things keeping Horine from taking a major fall.
Horine and Irwin said that they put themselves in these risky situations because it challenges them and forces them to grow.
“If you never fall — if you never walk away from a route, then you’re either not pushing yourself or you’re doing something objectively wrong. I think falling is pretty important. I think failing and walking away is pretty important to learning and improving.” — Zak Horine
Irwin and Horine hold their lives in their own hands, and they have flown across the United States from their home in the mountains of North Carolina to do it. They have been pursuing the thrill of outdoor sports for years.
“It’s kind of cerebral — at the same time, it’s highly physical. There’s this mental zone that you have to be in, and also you have to be in really good physical shape. And combining those two aspects I think it’s just the perfect sport.” — Gabe Irwin
Life hasn’t always been easy for them. As nearly half of all families in the United States have suffered at one point or another, Irwin felt the sting of a challenging divorce between his parents. Horine lost his father, an outdoorsman who left big shoes to fill, before he even got to know him.
“ I didn’t spend too much time at home anymore. And part of that was because it was a bit depressing for me.” — Gabe Irwin
Both Horine and Irwin said that being active in the outdoors has helped them overcome the challenges in their personal life and forge their own character. Their draw to the sport of rock climbing as an outlet has roots in science.
“The one moment where I really realized I didn’t feel at home was when I just wanted to escape to the woods for a while.” — Zak Horine
Time outside can help with depression and anxiety. One study found that even just a 90 minute walk can help reduce anxiety, and the findings suggest that time in nature can help prevent depression.
A different study at Stanford University confirmed these findings and also suggested that a brief walk in nature can briefly boost cognitive ability.
“In terms of the scenery, it’s beautiful. And in terms of just the, like, kind of nirvana that you have reached over the course of climbing the the wall — that mental state that the climb put you in knowing that you are at the top and that you’re mostly safe and that you made it.” — Gabe Irwin
It is no wonder that Irwin, Horine and other outdoor enthusiasts find an outlet in nature. It allows them to process hardship and come out of the wilderness feeling better than before.
“Climbing isa job, it’s a hobby, but most of all it’s a passion. It’s something I can throw myself into and release.” — Zak Horine
Up above the rest of the world, their worries fall away. Irwin and Horine are who they truly are, boldly and unapologetically, while buried deep in the wilderness far from home.