It was in Turkey that I first met Christine Balaz. It’s always in the most exotic, far away lands that I seem to meet the most interesting people.
I took a day off of climbing to concentrate on photographing action shots; specifically climbers, using my climber friends as my guinea pig muses. As I finished up an hour-long session of being strung up 20 meters on a bolt solid in limestone, I shook out, pulled out the massive wedgie and noticed a young woman starting up Lycian Highway to our left. Her moves were fluid, her manner calm…that I almost forgot my wedgie and wanted to begin shooting with my long lens to capture her smooth operator-like tendencies. As my friends chatted about me, I thought to myself, ‘Eh. That’s kinda weird….I don’t know her and maybe she’ll chuck a rock at me.’. And I tucked my camera away but filed a mental note on her graceful ascent.
Later on, we met at the camp’s bar area; I learned she and her partner/boyfriend had been traveling all over and she was there for a few weeks to work and climb. Able to be a bit more obtrusive now after an introduction, I was ready to ask questions – who is she? What is her background? What are the secrets to a rock hard body that led to her part-time, climbing calendar, pin-up girl career? Okay, so I nixed the last question. But she was kind enough to offer some of her time to share her experiences, including this photo of her climbing in Indian Creek……in a gown:
RRRG: How did your love for climbing come about?
Christine: I started climbing at the end of high school (1999) with a group of skiing friends; they’d already been climbing for years (and were already very good), and introduced me in a very low-key, fun way. It was perfect; they were motivated, very fun to be around, but also very skilled and safe. They were back then what today is still my favorite type of climber: always making lots of fart jokes, but still super motivated and dedicated. The first time I ever tried climbing, I knew I would do it for the rest of my life. So I bought a pair of the best shoes I could find and was committed!
RRRG: What kind of climbing do you mostly partake in?
Christine: If you look at my lifetime list of climbs, 90% are sport climbs. The majority of the remainder is trad (single pitch, towers, long routes). A small, small percentage is bouldering. But I live with three boulderers now, including my boyfriend, and am really dedicating this spring to learning that aspect of climbing! (I’ve traditionally avoided bouldering, as I’m extremely injury prone in my “soft tissue” and find my body has a hard time handling the intensity of bouldering.)
I love sport climbing because it’s just plain fun. It doesn’t hurt my body: doesn’t injure it like bouldering does, and doesn’t freaking HURT like pure crack climbing does. Plus, I’ve been travelling a lot in Europe (and beyond) recently, and the limestone there is soooo good. Trad is good- I enjoyed learning crack climbing when I moved to Utah; I’d grown sick of being a bolt-requiring sport weenie. I’m psyched to climb cracks/ trad well enough now that I can really go anywhere and climb any medium of rock. Bouldering? Still learning that one!
RRRG: “Climbing”. A culture? A sport? A lifestyle?
Christine: I’d have to say “lifestyle” in that I can’t live anywhere without access to climbing, can’t work a job that requires five days a week. So I’ve been living in Utah or on the road, self-employed (as a writer/ book author and tutor) for years. The last few years, I’ve done a lot of travelling, often solo, to many, many other countries. So in that sense, I’d have to say “culture”, too. Without trying to sound cheezy, I’d have to say I really feel more at home in Spain among climbers than in America… pretty much anywhere! As for “sport”- I’m just now trying to understand climbing as a sport; Marius Morstad (famed Norwegian climber of yore and trainer of elites like Ben Moon) believes that almost all climbers treat climbing as recreation, and have no real understanding of it as an actual sport -no idea how to properly train, eat, rest, etc… With that in mind, I’ve been trying to understand climbing as a sport quite a lot more recently.
RRRG: I know you’re a writer. What subject matter(s) do you write on and do you have links to some of your recent work if it’s online?
Christine: I’ve written three travel guidebooks (as well as one second edition to my first book for Countryman Press:
and another in this series (to be published this month)
I’ve also done a few travel apps for the iPhone (under Sutro Media):
and have just started writing for Nile Guide:
I’ve also written an aritcle (on Ibex) for Dead Point Magazine (Issue 13 Nov/ Dec 2010) and have another coming out soon on Gym Jones:
RRRG: That’s quite impressive. At this moment, do you have any current climbing projects?
Christine: Learning to boulder! Taking a trip to Joe’s this weekend, and then going to Bishop for 10 days. Really, I just want to get a solid foundation on bouldering! I’m hoping to live in Europe again (starting this summer?)– and I will have to reevaluate then. Will likely be in Sweden this summer, so will have to focus on granite trad (Bohuslän) if there, and hoping to possibly be in Spain the following year, so will then switch back to limestone sport. In any case, I’m always just trying to improve technique, strength. Honestly, injuries have been a very major part of my entire climbing experience, so a big goal is figuring out how to mitigate those. This ties in with me understanding climbing as a sport and doing the necessary crosstraining/ antagonist training, stretching, etc… so I’ve been working more with weights and other training, and doing a lot of yoga.
RRRG: And where have you been climbing lately?
Christine: Mmmm… Summer/ Fall 2009: all over Europe (Croatia, Slovenia, Germany, France, Spain), Winter/ Spring 2010: All over US (Western US, and then Red River Gorge), Fall 2010: Turkey (Antalya Region– you might have been? he he he), Winter 2011: Southern Utah (St George, Moab/ Indian Creek), Bishop, CA– soon to be Joe’s Valley, more of Bishop!
RRRG: What area do you consider your home crag?
Christine: Home crag? Geez… that really is hard! I guess definitely don’t have one- and eventually that’s what I’d like to have: a place to project, push grades, and not just be on a “permanent road trip”. But meanwhile, I’m really enjoying the variety of climbs and rock types. If I could be anywhere climbing right now, it would definitely be on Spanish limestone! But living in Salt Lake this winter has been really nice, too. Lots of road-trip-able areas, and a bed/ job to return home to!
RRRG: Beautiful shot in the 2011, “Women of Climbing” calendar. Do you plan on quitting your day job anytime soon and investing in a supermodel career? Is it distracting when photos are being shot of you?
Christine: Ha ha ha! Thank you- and good work, Nathan. No- I actually think it’s really comfortable climbing near a photographer! I feel somehow safer with another human body near me, even if the climbing should otherwise be scary! Some kind of creature comfort thing. Plus, the photographers I’ve shot with mostly (Nathan Smith, Andrew Burr) never stage photos or do anything that distracts– it’s just like having another climbing buddy along, except sometimes we aim to climb during better light conditions (sunset, sunrise).
RRRG: What’s the future look like for you? (goals/plans, etc)
Christine: No plans! Just relying on luck and good health to keep my budget low– and allow me to keep travelling. I’m currently trying to figure out the next year: maybe teach in Spain, maybe continue tutoring in Salt Lake or even teach here. Always keeping my eyes open and making new connections, looking for writing gigs, etc… Definitely would appreciate more financial/ domestic stability, but also recognize that as a minor sacrifice in the name of travelling and climbing!
Want more?! Chock-full of images and tales of road trip adventures, here ya go: http://christinebalaz.blogspot.com/
Christine working “Is Rail” (V6) which she sent after – Moe’s Valley
Is Rail from Christine Balaz on Vimeo.
A big thank you to Andrew Burr for the use of this photos. Please check out more of his phenomenal work: www.AndrewBurr.com
Interview by Christine Cauble