Brittany Goris’s feet paste against the greasy granite of the Lower Town Wall in Index, Washington, as the sun dips below the Cascades. Her fingers on the verge of sliding from the tips locks on City Park, the 5.13d crack freed by Todd Skinner in 1986, Goris pushes through. She hooks her heel—barely—then snags a sloper, marking the end of the crux. She lets out a victory cry—it’s July 2018, and Goris has just made the route’s first female ascent, even though she’s only been trad-climbing for about a year.
Goris just might be the queen of self-reinvention. The nomadic 26-year-old has been a comp climber, sport climber, burned-out boulderer, and—most notably—a catastrophically injured climber who clawed her way back from a broken body to crush 5.14 sport and 5.13+ trad. Formerly based in Seattle, Goris is now working from the road as the operations assistant for Girls Rock Math, an organization that hosts STEM-based summer camps and workshops for girls ages kindergarten through sixth grade.
Goris grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, and began climbing at age nine when her mother, Lorraine, took her to Inner Strength climbing gym to drop off her older sister, Lindsey, for a school trip. As Lorraine, an assistant manager for the wool blanket and apparel producer Pendleton, recalls, “Brittany was always climbing—trees, playground equipment, and rooftops, taking in the vistas and filled with joy.” As her father, Andy, an engineer at Microsoft recalls, Goris latched onto climbing with her trademark tenacity. She’d always approached her interests with intensity, including piano practice, during which she banged the keys on the family’s digital piano with such ferocity, says Andy, that “you could hear them being pounded from anywhere in the house.”
In 2010, Goris moved to Bellingham, Washington, to study recreation management and Spanish at Western Washington University; there, she joined the competitive circuit on the collegiate team. Over the past eight years, she’s placed top three in the women’s open category in over 40 competitions, including ABS, Tour de Bloc, NC3, and local competitions. Then, in 2011, while bouldering in the gym, Goris fell, landing awkwardly on the edge of a drag-around mat. “My left knee locked up and dislocated violently sideways, and I crumpled onto my opposing arm, which followed suit and dislocated as well,” recalls Goris. “I let out a scream that could be heard from every room in the gym.”
The fall left Goris with a torn ACL and LCL, and a dislocated knee and elbow. Yet she refused to take a passive road to recovery. Twice a week, every week, for six months, she went to climbing practice with her team, partaking in her own workouts as the others climbed, living through them vicariously. While her elbow healed quickly, her knee was another story. Trapped in a giant hinged brace, Goris became creative with her workouts, doing stretching, core, and weights, plus assisted one-arm pull-ups, typewriters, weighted pull-ups, one-arm-lockoff negatives, etc. Still, every evening when Goris left and walked back to her dorm, she would cry tears of frustration.
“This is pushing your limits, too—just in a different sense,” her coach, Justin Wyse, told her. “You’re changing your personality to accommodate a faster recovery.” Her mind, recalls Goris, needed to “take a chill-pill to stop from going too hard, too soon.” Throughout, she had a specific goal: to win at the college comp series. That season she took third, and went on to win the series the following year.
Soon, Goris began to transition outside. Yet it would be in the world of outdoor bouldering that she encountered another unexpected wall: burnout, the result, she says, of comparing herself to others. In 2016, Climbing published her story “Burnout: What Happens When You Quit?”, detailing her hiatus from the sport—a break that gradually ended when she connected to sport climbing, yielding ticks like Baby Fight (5.14a) at Equinox, Washington, in 2017. Later that year, she was shut down by a Little Si 5.13d and began feeling the creep of frustration once again. Then her friend Chris Kalman gave Goris some sage advice: “Don’t be afraid to redefine yourself.” City Park had been on her mind for years, but Goris never felt she had the experience. The fresh motivation pushed her doubts aside, and she decided to begin trying. Her battle for City Park’s first female ascent began in December 2017, and after countless mock leads, toprope runs, failed attempts, and bloodied fingers, Goris clipped the chains, having reinvented herself yet again.
- Related: Hot, Wet, Slug-Infested Sandbags—Five Reasons Not to Climb at Washington's Index Town Walls [Summit Member Exclusive]
Q & A
What advice do you have for people transitioning from gym to crag?
Find the right partners—people who are safe and fun, and who make you want to push yourself on your own terms. People often think that their partners need to be the same gender, the same age, the same ability level, whatever. That’s all irrelevant. You need to have one thing in common, and that’s a passion for climbing. The rest is just details.
Who keeps you inspired/stoked?
A lot of my motivation is intrinsic. I often train alone so I can listen to music and pump myself up. At the crag, I’m inspired by people around me who offer words of encouragement or even just a friendly conversation, especially if we don’t know each other. This stranger cares about what I’m doing? That means it’s worth more than just a personal battle, and suddenly I care so much more.
What do you recommend to people looking to climb harder?
You need to have a goal. It doesn’t matter what, so long as it’s measurable and tangible, so you aren’t just training indefinitely for something that has no meaning—like wanting “to get stronger.” Pick something, anything, that has an end. Sending a certain project, climbing a certain grade, doing your first pullup, climbing every route in the gym—you name it. It makes it so much easier to stay focused.
5 Things You Didn’t Know About Brittany Goris
1. Goris produces art, videos, and other creative media
A recent big project for Girls Rock Math had her illustrating children’s books about female mathematicians.
2. Her fuel of choice is carrots...
...about five pounds per week, usually raw but sometimes with hummus.
3. Goris shamelessly loves memes
As she says, “There is room in my heart for all of them.” Send her your favorites @gorisb.
4. Goris loves board games and puzzles
Settlers of Catan and Splendor are two favorites, as are 1,000-piece puzzles of things like blue skies. Last year, in the Red, her friend bet her $100 that Goris couldn’t solve a Rubik’s Cube without looking up the algorithm. Some 20 hours later, she proved him wrong.
5. Goris’ main obstacle on City Park was road rage
One day, Seattle traffic was so bad that her commute with her belay partner, Eric Hirst, took twice as long as usual and left her with only enough time for a warm-up and one burn on her project—and wondering if “whatever it takes” was worth it. Fortunately, Hirst persuaded her to persevere.