In the world of rock climbing, stories of death-defying resilience are paramount to acts of achievement. Resilience and strength go hand in hand. Sport climbers often spend years honing their skills to perform on difficult routes, boiling an entire climb down to the most challenging moves on a few meters of rock. The mental fortitude required to perform at an elite level is difficult to maintain. Rock climbing requires total focus.
Photo Credit: Irene Yee
For Brazilian-born Maiza Lima, the resilience required to climb hard is knit into her approach to life. Unlike so many athletes who grew up with access to climbing, Maiza started her unlikely career sleeping on a straw mat in a home constructed of palm trees in northern Brazil. Her family was bitterly poor, and life was difficult. Maiza’s treacherous journey to the United States prepared her for the challenges of rock climbing in a way that no physical training possibly could. These days, Maiza feels most at home dangling off steep cliffs across the United States from Kentucky to Nevada. Investing in community matters to Maiza, and when she gets excited about a climbing area, she devotes herself to it whole-heartedly.
Photo Credit: Irene Yee
When Maiza’s husband Dallin Wilson set off to Louisville, Kentucky for a firefighting competition in 2016, he did not have plans to buy property in Kentucky. “It just sort of happened,” Maiza laughs, as she recounts the story. “He bought the property sight unseen. We didn’t even set foot on the land until a year later.” Dallin had his eye out for the land because of its proximity to the world-class rock climbing in the Red River Gorge. However, the real project would turn out to be building a shed on the property. The industrious couple knows their way around power tools. Maiza is one of the few women bolting sport climbs in America, and she and Dallin already own a home in Great Falls, Montana. “We bought the second property so that we could have a comfortable place to stay while climbing in Kentucky,” Maiza adds, detailing how much she has enjoyed getting to know the local community. “The neighbors couldn't believe we bought this land! They have been so friendly to us.” The Red River Gorge is one of America’s premier sport climbing destinations. It is located in the heart of the Kentucky mountains and offers hundreds of steep bolted sport routes on impeccable sandstone. “The forest is so pretty, it is so green,” Maiza grins as she describes the area. “It reminds me a lot of home,” she adds, referring to the Amazon rainforest. For Maiza, climbing in the Red River Gorge makes a lot of sense. She enjoys climbing on steep terrain, and ever since entering the climbing scene she’s felt drawn to the infamous Kentucky sandstone. Before buying the land, the couple had visited the Red River Gorge once before, staying at two separate campgrounds during their trip. “The only problem is that all the campgrounds were so loud, it was difficult to rest and sleep because people were arriving at all hours of the day. It was a long wait for the bathroom, and it was muddy and rainy... Difficult to make breakfast. Basically it was really fun climbing, but unpleasant to camp,” Maiza explains.
Photo Credit: Irene Yee Maiza isn’t one to sit around and complain, though. The next time she and Dallin visited the Red River Gorge, they drove down in a beat-up truck full of building materials with the intent to construct a shed on their newly purchased never-before-seen property in Kentucky. Dallin’s dream of owning a cabin in the woods, something that feels like a tree fort, was going to come true. First, he and Maiza would construct the shed, with the eventual goal of building a full-sized cabin on the property in the summer of 2021. Dallin planned to put his years of experience working construction and tinkering with various building projects to good use. For him, the location of the property wasn’t what mattered, it was the building project that enchanted him. Maiza, on the other hand, couldn't stop dreaming of the rock in the Red River Gorge. The thought of owning a cabin that is 10-30 minutes away from arguably the best sport climbing in the United States had her mind reeling with possibilities and dreams of training to push her mental and physical limits. As the two set off they were both filled with a vision for the Kentucky property that was full of limitless potential.
Maiza is all laughs as she describes the property, “It’s on a hill with a little stream at the end of it, but it is very hard to park there, it is a very steep piece of land.” It took a few days of clearing brush, leveling the land, building a driveway, and making space for the pair to even get started on the shed. There is no running water, electricity, or cell phone service on the property. Dallin built an ad hoc kitchen out of plywood. During their first few days, they slept in a tent. As so often happens with projects of this magnitude, they were consumed with work and did not get the chance to go climbing. Maiza’s rugged resolve started to waver.
“Between driving and building the shed I didn’t get to go climbing for 10 days. Then our table with all of our food and stove slipped down the hill,” she bursts into laughter as she describes, yet again, how steep the property is. “You can’t tell from the photos—it is very steep. When our table slid down the hill, I just lost it. I was a mess.” Maiza describes how, days later, exhausted from straining and building, she was working with Dallin to lift one of the walls of the shed. They caught the wall on a tree branch and the whole thing nearly fell on top of them. She admits that it was terrifying to realize how isolated they were, out alone on the property. “Luckily nothing happened,” she cringes. Finally, after days of wrestling with the land and building the shed, they finished their project. They now have a small space to store gear and sleep while they work on the cabin to come. Maiza and Dallin returned to Montana feeling accomplished, albeit exhausted.
Rock climbing is a recreational sport for most folks, but for dedicated climbers like Maiza it is truly a lifestyle and an identity. The desire to connect with her local community in Kentucky sets Maiza apart from many of the visitors that pass through the Red River Gorge each year. Maiza has participated in local meetings about the new resort that will be built nearby and hopes to see her community attain access to running water someday. She’s also excited to share her cabin with friends and family, “The first night after we finished the shed we were so excited, we could barely sleep. It felt like playing house, it was such a unique experience.”
Building a cabin would be a difficult task for anyone, but for a woman who never had a real home growing up it takes on profound meaning. Maiza brings a refreshing energy to the crags of the Red River Gorge, and a unique perspective on rock climbing. Sport climbers work in pairs, encouraging one another on the rock. If a climber pulls a hard move, their belayer will shout, “Come on! You got this! Don’t forget to breathe!” We all know what it feels like to hold our breath in anticipation. For the next generation of rock climbers, Maiza Lima’s presence at the crag is a sign that reads: “Welcome home.”
Photo Credit: Irene Yee