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Why the Rest of us Climb (Not the Gladiators ... the Weekend Warriors)


Submitted by harris on 2006-01-20 | Last Modified on 2007-08-06

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by harris resnick


It might be puzzling, ethereal and mysterious to grasp the meaning and motivation behind THEIR climbing: the heroes of impossible effort, danger and accomplishment. We've breathlessly read of their exploits many times. From the heroic, high speed, two wheeled, careening out of control bus ride down the last broken, pot holed mountain pass road; to the heroic, rotted rope bridge crossing over the raging, icy river; to the heroic trek through the creaking, popping, yawning crevasse-laden glacier, over snow bridges of dubious strength, past the dangerous, evil bergshrund ... blah blah blah ... rockfall, raging 100mph winds ... blah blah ... pinned down for three weeks ... blah ... whiteout ... blah ... avalanche, broken legs, frost bite, no food for ten days, two mile crawl only to find base camp abandoned. Yep, exciting stuff, alright.

Why do they do it? 'Tis a puzzlement! But I have a very firm fix on why I, and the rest of us mortal weekend warriors, climb. In a word: FUN! Allow me to elaborate on the enormity of that tiny word as it relates to climbing. It's like the tent in the old cartoons, where you can wrap your arms around it and clasp hands on the other side, but when you enter it, you're inside the king's palace at a sumptuous banquet. The diverse forms of climbing, from Himalayan mountaineering to traditional rock climbing to ice climbing and modern sport climbing, plus hybrids combining techniques from each, are like the dishes at that banquet. Choose whatever pleases your palate; they are all delicious. As varied as it is, however, all climbing shares numerous skills and avenues of self expression and accomplishment which comprise the foundation of fun. Climbing encompasses the gamut of physical and mental prowess, with the added dimension of potentially life-altering consequences to one's decisions, that separates it from other, more common, endeavors.

Physically, as in all sports, one simultaneously develops, uses and tests his skills. Good climbing utilizes the most delicate movement possible, with balance and grace; a ballet on rock to scale terrain where Schwartzeneggar-like strength is no advantage at all. On the same climb, however, one might encounter moves that DO require pure power, and the ability to perform with a finely tuned combination of brute strength and delicate movement is, ... well ... fun! But in climbing, physical skills alone are not enough. One must apply his hard won skills to the mental problem of linking moves through a continuous sequence to accomplish the climb. Two physically equal climbers may be very unequal in ability to recognize and execute that sequence. In addition, there is the thoughtful and creative challenge of finding rest positions during that sequence to avoid the dreaded pump. It is a three dimensional, physical chess game that is very satisfying to accomplish, thus - fun.

The next dimension, that of commitment and consequences, ties the physical and mental aspects together in a way that elevates climbing beyond ordinary sport and ordinary fun. Very clear self evaluation is necessary to puncture that surface tension boundary between the wimp layer and the bold layer, while maintaining a reasonable margin of safety. One must be humble enough to recognize his true weaknesses, and accurate enough to know his true abilities, in order to make survivable decisions on commitment to hard moves or choices of climbs. Lacking requisite humility or judgement, one may quickly find himself whimpering in fear, on terrain he can not handle, possibly in danger of injury or worse. Yet, to experience the thrill of commitment and the satisfaction of accomplishment, one MUST probe the boundary to some degree, but intelligently, with honest self assessment and acute self awareness. If all the component skills are employed with care and competence, one will be successful. Not necessarily successful in completing a given climb, but successful in staying healthy and having fun. Falling or retreating is not failure. A climber who never falls has not probed the boundary and has not experienced the depth and dimension that raise climbing beyond the ordinary. [page] There are still other skills employed by the climber in the engineering component of the game. These are the skills regarding equipment use, such as belaying and rapelling, rope management on multi-pitch climbs, anchoring and protection systems, aid, self rescue, and a host of others. All of these encompass both rudimentary levels and multi-faceted advanced levels. Inherent in learning and applying these skills is immense satisfaction and accomplishment, and therefore, once again, inevitably ... fun.

Yet another reward and draw to the world of climbing is the sheer dazzling beauty involved. Rock, itself, is an exquisite natural art form. It manifests in an infinite variety of sensuous and intriguing sizes, shapes, textures and colors; the equal of any work of Michaelangelo or Da Vinci. Further, many climbing areas exist among terrain of beauty that is truly wondrous in the more pristine places, and discernable even under the broken glass, beer cans and bullet shells of some humbler places many of us know.

In addition to the physical, mental and aesthetic components of our deep, multi-dimensional sport, is the profound social aspect involved. Not only does one meet many great friends who share a passion, but he must form a working partnership; a partnership which is unlike that of other sports in which a partner is merely another player. In climbing, each partner shares a commitment and responsibility for the other's life, thus forming a deep and meaningful bond that often transcends the limited boundarys of the climbing game, and may last a lifetime. Profound. Satisfying. FUN!

These words are only symbols, distorted attempts to communicate the realities seen and felt with crystal clarity through direct experience. Perhaps a Vulcan mind meld would better serve to share understanding of why we climb. Bypass the clumsy words. Delve directly into the brain. Instant understanding. Eureka! Unfortunately, Spock has left the building, and there is a distinct lack of Vulcans available to perform the procedure; and just as unfortunately, no lack of words. Phrases like "joy of physical movement", "sheer dazzling beauty", "satisfaction of accomplishment", and "deep and meaningful bond", can sound almost silly, mere cliches. But cliches, like myths, are often built around kernels of pure truth. In the case of climbing, I must risk the embarassment of lacking the cleverness to avoid them, for they epitomize what, to me, expresses the truths in why most of us climb, even though many do not consciously realize it. They simply know that CLIMBING IS FUN.

So go climbing. Use that power! Use that grace! Use that brain!

Make friends.

Be bold. Be safe. But most of all ... HAVE FUN!

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