Where do you start in telling about a trip that was so awesome, surprising, challenging and impactful that you are still not entirely ‘back’ ten days after returning home?
I suppose I’ll start at the beginning.
I love rock climbing more than just about anything (except dogs. dogs I love more than anything). My entire life since 17, climbing has been at my core: it’s my love; my way of clearing my head; my way to challenge myself; and my passion. There have been years I hardly climbed, or not at all. Yet I always return to it.
And when I do, everything settles into its place and the world makes sense again.
Why I Climb
It’s hard to explain, and if you search the literature for ‘why people climb’, you will find as many reasons as authors. But in all of them is a common core. Climbers talk about how hard it is to put in words. Many try. Some do quite well, but I believe our language limits us.
There’s a passion to climbing that grabs you and draws you in.
It’s family, kin, community, ken; walking into a room, a trailhead, or the base of a climb and knowing that everyone there, even a stranger, understands a deep and special part of you. And you both understand what you mutually share. You know that slightly feral look in each other’s eyes.
It’s putting yourself up to the edge of fear, self-doubt, the unknown, challenge.
Rising to that challenge, digging deep to dredge up whatever in you it takes to surpass those obstacles. Then coming back down to ground (literally and figuratively!) to take that collected experience and apply it to the rest of your life.
You learn that you are capable of so much more than you ever thought – not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. And when you’re not capable of more in the present, you find out why.
You may find out you haven’t learned a certain hard skill or technique. You find out – again and again – that most of your limits are not real, but perceived and self-imposed.
Why not just do it once and move on?
Here I’ll go a bit deeper. For some people, climbing is a do-it-once-and-move-on kind of thing, and there’s no doubt it has its benefits. I’ve had students who climbed once, and in that half-day experience, blew the top off their self-perceived limitations. No doubt that carried into the rest of their lives in wonderful ways.
For climbers, climbing itself becomes a lifelong journey of self-discovery.
There’s a zen; a clarity not only of mind, but also of spirit, that comes while climbing – whether you’re on a smooth steep crack in the desert… a grainy low-angled granite slab… a ridge-top mountain scramble… a 10-foot boulder problem… a frozen waterfall.
Everything else falls away, and it’s just you moving on the rock, the scramble, the ice. No cell phones, no tax returns, no work deadlines, no news; just you, your partner, and the climb. Life distills down to a simplicity that may only last for a few minutes or a few days, but while you’re in it, all the dry, caked, ragged edges have a chance to slough off, leaving your mind and spirit renewed and revitalized. It brings a special clarity.
You connect more deeply with what matters to you.
During those moments, many things can happen. Sometimes, you are stripped down to your naked, self-doubting, strong- or weak-willed core, and you have to make a choice. Am I up for this?
Am I crazy, deluded, irresponsible for choosing to move on?
Am I using my self-doubt as an easy out?
I did this climb/move/challenge last week, why can’t I do it today?
Am I afraid of failing?
What if I DO fail?
What the hell am I doing up here?
What if I just give it a try and see what happens?
Hey I’ve become stronger!
Oh my gawd, that was freakin’ fun!
Sometimes you choose to step up, sometimes you choose to step down. As with many times in life, there is no template; neither one is necessarily better than the other. Backing off can be the best decision due to risk or unreadiness. Sometimes it’s the worst decision – downclimbing is really tricky. Or, you walk away wishing you’d gone for it.
Sometimes stepping up is leagues easier than you expected. Or you struggle up something and can hardly believe you did it. Sometimes you fail or fall, and you get your ass handed to you on a silver platter. I have a proud collection of silver platters 😉 .
In those moments of choosing, you grow. You learn what you are made of, and what you’d like to be made of. You get a glimpse of how deep you have to dig to get there. Motivation strikes.
Over time, your judgment becomes more sound. Your decision-making process improves. You get to know your own soft underbelly; how you react under pressure, how fear moves you, how you communicate with others when you’re tired, stressed, or worried. Or just plain cold and hungry.
It’s an opportunity to learn to work with yourself like a supportive friend; knowing when to nudge, and when to say “let’s brew a cuppa and think about this for a bit.” And like a good friend will do, sometimes you just say oh what the hell and throw yourself in the pool.
Listening to the internal storyline
Above I wrote that most of our limits are not real, but perceived and self-imposed. What does this mean? Not only in climbing, but in life, we maintain an internal storyline or monologue; we constantly tell ourselves who we are, what our abilities are, and especially our faults and limits. Nobody is immune – no matter age, gender, profession.
If you don’t believe this applies to you, listen to yourself for a whole day – not the words that come out of your mouth (though they can also play this role), but the words that come into your mind, about YOU. All day long. Don’t react, don’t judge. Just listen and witness.
Understand that these words have immense power. Intended or not, those storylines serve to define us. Sometimes it’s positive, but for many people, they break us down and limit us:
“Bob is so much better at this than I am.”
“Why can’t I do this, I did it last year.”
“I’ll never get in better shape.”
“I’m not worthy of _____.”
“I can’t handle _____.”
“I’ll never lead 5.11.”
“I suck at ____.”
In climbing, we are faced frequently with that internal storyline. The gift: We are given the chance to change the template, choosing a storyline that better serves to empower us.
Whether you are cruising in zen mode, making decisions, improving your strength and skills, crushing your project, or facing that doubtful internal voice, climbing offers up a mountain of opportunities for becoming the best version of yourself – not only on the climb.
Climbing offers us a stone-cold, brutally honest mirror. That may sound harsh, but I believe it’s all in how you choose to hold that mirror. When you welcome its reflection, you set the foundation for self-love and unbounded growth.
Oh – and did I mention?
CLIMBING IS REALLY FUN!
Climbers climb because it’s fun! You’re out in an amazing environment, with awesome people, doing something that feels good and is a total blast. Yessss!
I laugh so much when I’m out climbing, whether on a hard route or an easy one. Climbers have a really awesome sense of humor. You kind of have to when you’re making an idiot of yourself hourly.
I have a few friends who are new to climbing. Occasionally they express concern that I’ll be bored climbing with them because they can’t do hard stuff. I tell them in all honesty that half of why I’m out there is for the amazing views and good company. And, if I want to push harder, I’ll go with someone who wants to do the same. I’m here by choice.
Climbing isn’t always about pushing my limits. Expanding boundaries and digging deep has its place, but it’s important to let the majority of my climbing take me to a place of joy. That’s pretty easy.
I do have to be mindful of the fun vs. fear factor. Periodically I’ve let my climbing take me to that edge-of-fear place too often. I find I’m anxious on the way to climbing, or even at the thought of a climbing day. That’s when it’s time to tone it down, do more cruiser routes, laugh a lot and have more fun.
Once the balance is restored, then it’s easier to approach something hard and dig out the strength to buck up. And maybe even have fun doing it!
Climbing just feels good!
Above I mentioned a zen; a clarity not only of mind, but also of spirit, that comes while climbing, and that during those moments, many things can happen. Sometimes it’s not deep self-discovery, but instead the pure bliss of movement.
Climbing just feels good. Like yoga, skiing, biking, or any other activity where movement connects you with your mental and emotional core. Our bodies need movement. When we are absorbed in that, things flow.
Moving my body. Feeling the rock under my skin – textures, temperature, energy. Experiencing how my mind and spirit move while in motion. Feeling my strength. The beauty of motion.
The movement brings me deeper into my body and my sense of self.
It brings me in contact with the earth itself.
There is more to why people climb… trust, friendship, environment, more… maybe I’ll write about that in the future.
What about that trip report?
I started this post expecting to give one of my trip reports about what I did, who I met, trip logistics, and such. Then all of the above just spilled out.
This trip held major moments of self-discovery, and I was gifted a big dose of “Why I Climb”. I suppose this had to come out first. Writing tends to take one on a journey of discovery – like any trail, you don’t really know what’s next until you walk it.
I was sick for so long, at times I doubted I’d ever get to experience the things I loved again. While rebuilding my strength over the past few years, I’ve had milestones that felt really good. I’m so grateful for that. I’ve also had challenges and setbacks, and had to dial some things back to give my body a chance to catch up with my wildly passionate heart. The gaps get smaller and smaller.
This trip to Indian Creek was full of surprises, challenges, and blessings, and showed me I’ve surpassed my former self in unexpected ways. That lays the foundation for my future goals and adventures.
It was one of those trips that leaves you ‘in a state’ for a while after returning home. It takes some time for things to filter in, and to filter back out in a way you can express with words.
I’ll be writing more about this trip over the next few weeks – menus, recipes, logistics and reflections.
I look forward to sharing with you about it.
Until then, I hope you can embrace what brings you joy, and connect with what in your life is a vehicle to self-discovery. And FUN!