Sunday, September 6, 2009

Perspectives on the climbing experience...

My friend Zach wrote a great short piece about how he feels when climbing. I thought about it for a while and decided to also write my own, a much needed distraction to homework that day. I'll put Zach's first, as he is a much better writer.

"Of all the reasons that life in the mountainous, empty country of the West is mocked by urbanites, the least convincing is that there is nothing to do. Oftentimes these city-dwelling naysayers can be found on sofa cushions basking in the glow of artificial light. I, for one, believe that there is an inherent advantage to sunlight.

From the belay at the base of the rock wall, both Zach and Jake looked up to see the long, winding crack they’d soon climb. It was beautiful all the way up, slim enough to accept fists here, fingers there, and never so wide that it became the less beautiful offwidth. It was a single pitch, a carefree line.

The morning was warm and windy. The branches of the pines that surrounded the belay swayed slowly, and at the top of the crack, where the anchor chains hung on the wall, they could see the small shrubs that grew in the notches and were fed by rainwater and dust whipping back and forth. They sat quietly in the grass chewing energy bars and learning the crack. When their hunger was sated, they organized gear and taped their hands.

The last act before the climb was always the final check—yanking on straps and tugging at rope, placing a faith in the nylon and steel so strong that it was a form of love.

“You good?”

“Yep. You?”


Jake led. He was a superior climber, both technically and mentally, and he always led. As he approached the wall, his focus narrowed to the rock in front of him. His thoughts disappeared. He slid his taped hands into the first great opening, felt the cool granite against his fingers, and made a fist. He could sense the mass and the strength of the rock. He gave it his trust, and his confidence was tempered. From here on he was an artist, lost in his art. He was fast and sure.

Zach looked up, tense. His hands gripped the rope, feeding line now, pulling it in now, and he felt the grease of sweat and chalk on his palms. He watched Jake placing gear and wedging fingers, always searching for any sign that a fall was coming. If he saw Jake pause, or fumble to place a cam, he braced himself, ready for the catch. His weight shifted back and forth on his feet. His arms were tense but gentle, like a dancer’s. And always, his eyes were on Jake, far above.

Toward the end of long days he felt a sharp pain in his neck, and would hang his head heavily in between climbs for relief.

In ten minutes, Jake approached the anchor, sixty-five feet above the floor. Zach stood, still tense, squinting his eyes against the deep blue sky above. He watched as Jake used a free hand to unclip gear from his harness and methodically build the rappel anchor. He began to imagine the climb for himself, how he would feel high above the ground, everything quiet but his breathing and the wind whipping across his face."

Here's mine along with a non related picture

I look upward searching the featurless rock for answers. My only focus on, where can I protect myself next, do I need to protect this section, and how can I get up the next ten feet of rock? I look down and see the rope blowing in the wind going to my last piece of protection almost 20 feet below. I take a cam off of my harness, remind myself to breath, and place it in the pefect contstriction in the rock. Quickly I attach a carabiner and clip my rope in. Each movement planned and precise as that of a dancer in show. The energy rushes into my body and an unusual lightness, as some climbers call a, “low gravity day,” takes over. I continue upward.

It is in these situations I feel the most alive. I imagine myself as an artist painting a masterpiece, or a composer pouring his/her heart into the music. All thought inward, focused on my breath, the rock, and not work, school, or other societal constraints. Before I know I’m at the top and am met with mixed emotion. It is not the top that I climb for, but the whole experience.

After buidling an anchor and attaching myself to the rock it is time to focus on the other half of climbing. I pull the rope tight. It is attached to not only a climbing partner, but a friend. To me climbing is as much about commradere, as it is about climbing. A quote by famous French mountaineer Lionel Terray articulates it much more concisely than I will attempt to.

"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for putting this up. By the way, I love the previous post. One of us should really be missing a limb.