Why I Climb

April 11, 2009

This last January I joined a small group of people (8 in total) for a half day rock climbing class.  I’d done a very small amount of climbing before and figured it would be a good time, but honestly I was hoping to just meet some women.  Much to my surprise, this was the start of a new love affair… one with rock.

Climbing has taken a toll on my hands

Climbing has taken a toll on my hands

In February I joined a climbing gym (Planet Granite) and have been spending about 10 hours a week torturing myself on its walls.  This is a huge amount of time for someone as busy as I am but for some reason I really can’t help myself.  Just like any other attraction, there is a certain amount of mystery behind it and I like to solve mysteries.

So I’m making a list.  A list of feelings and skills that showcase themselves while climbing. I doubt this list will be able to fully express things enough to come to any conclusions but I’ve got to start somewhere.  And just like Columbo, I’ll probably have to come back in the room and add in “just one more thing”.

Forced Social Behavior – Pretty much all of the outdoor activities that I’m into are ones that you can do by yourself.  Climbing is refreshingly different.  Because every climber needs someone to belay them (take in the rope as they climb) it’s kind of a hard activity to do by yourself.  This makes it very easy to approach others and strike up a conversation and so far almost everyone has been receptive of this.  In a world where most people avoid saying hello to strangers, climbers seem to encourage it.

Freedom – For years I’ve been exploring various parts of the wilderness and seeing rock walls that looked impossible to scale.  Being an idiot, I naturally want to conquer such things and it’s this kind of desire that I think worries my parents.  But as it turns out, acting on those desires can be really empowering.  The ability to traverse over any physical object opens up whole new worlds.  No longer is that island plateau off limits, no longer is the view from the top of that mountain out of reach and no longer are you simply stuck to foot paths.  It’s physical freedom on a level I have never experienced.

Problem Solving – Unless you’re on a ladder, climbing isn’t a straightforward task.  You need to plan your moves, anticipate the crux and find places to rest.  It sounds simple and logical while on the ground but these are easy things to forget when you’re getting mentally and physically tired.  This is what makes the sport so challenging.  You know where you want to go but just need to find the right combination of movements that will get you there while staying coordinated, balanced and under control.

Focus – Problem solving requires focus.  You can’t think about what is below you or how the last sequence of moves didn’t go as well as you planned.  You need to be looking ahead and knowing what your next few moves are so you can execute them logically.  At the same time you can’t forget about proper foot placement, keeping your hips close to the wall, progressing using your legs and so on.  You get so tuned into the task that you forget about the other things around you and feeling them reappear when you’re finished adds to the sensation.

Grace – Grace is just another word for control.  While keeping your temper and frustrations under control is very important, I’m actually talking about control of movement.  Making smooth movements to adjust your center of gravity helps you be a more efficient climber and use less upper body energy.  Watching the fluid movements of an experienced climber really is like watching someone dance on the rock, very graceful.  While the less experienced climber looks more like the portrayal of a white guy dancing.  I am a white guy and I think I stand a better chance of being graceful on a rock than I do a dance floor.

Physical Strength – Climbing is a full body physical activity.  Every muscle group can be used at different points but only some of them require real strength.  You discover pretty quickly that the muscles you want to use the most (your forearms) are the ones that are the weakest.  I may be in the minority, but I truly love pushing my body to its limits and feeling like I’ve done something at the end of the day.  If climbing doesn’t do that for you, it’s time to move up a few levels.

Mental Strength – Focus is the product of mental strength.  As a climber gets tired there seems to be a tendency to climb in a less efficient manner, this is clearly a downward spiral.  So having the mental strength to remain focused in the face of increasing pain is a valuable tool.  Being able to trust yourself to hold onto a grip is also an aspect of mental strength, if you can’t do this all you’re doing is closing off options.  There is also an aspect of dealing with fear.  Falling is a very natural and healthy fear, but if gone unchecked it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

Achievement – The feeling of accomplishment after finishing the hardest climb in your life is simply fantastic.  You struggle through it, push through the pain and come out on top.  Then down the road you find yourself able to do the same climbs that you once struggled on without an issue.  Because the routes follow a (sometimes rough) rating system it’s pretty easy to see improvement over time.

Endless Challenges – There is always a harder route to climb and many different types of rock to play with.  You can work on slabs (rock that isn’t quite vertical), overhanging rock, cracks, chimney climbs/stemming (using pressure with your feet and hands to scale up two parallel or adjacent faces), routes that require a lot of balance, routes with a lot of crimping holds, etc.  You can have some fun on some sport climbs or get the full rack of gear out for some traditional climbing.  This translates into a lifetime of goals.

Nope, that list doesn’t solve the mystery but perhaps it’s the mystery itself that is so appealing.  Afterall, one of the things that drew me to start climbing was the mystery of what’s at the top.  It seems kind of fitting that the mysterious journy to the top is what keeps me coming back.  So maybe this one should go unsolved.

Climb on.

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One Response to “Why I Climb”

  1. Dad Says:

    Ryan,
    Climbing sounds like your approach to life. The who, what, where, why and when has always been a huge part of your thoughts. Climbing sounds like another day at the office.
    Dad


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