Why I Love Climbing (and You Should Too)

My fingers are sore. It hurts to open bottles, button jeans, and make dinner. The split I have developed across the index finger joint catches on my clothing, bleeding lightly at the edges. There are blisters on the fat pad below each finger, yellowing as they build up hard skin. The muscles are tight across my forearms, my shoulders, my neck, my back. I am aware of my obliques in a way I never used to be. Its worth, it and will continue to be worth it, for the love of climbing.

Bouldering teaches strength. The strength to make dynamic moves, the strength to hold on just a few seconds longer. To move like a lizard along and under an overhang. There is nothing that makes me happier in my body than pulling myself up and over a crest, or realising that these runners thighs had enough in them to push up on just one solitary foot. There are routes at my wall with large overhangs, even one that requires a leap into space to make the next hold. That one, I am not yet strong enough for. But I practice that leapfrog at the start of every session and I am getting closer.


Climbing teaches fear. Or more accurately, teaches me to overcome it. There are problems I will never complete if I cannot take the leap. There are complex routes that require balance and patience, and the trust to raise up onto just one foot with no handholds in reach. Some of the blue and red problems can be solved by saying, "Just Stand Up". However, climbing also teaches you that it isn't that easy. My hammering pulse is trying to convince me to get back down, immediately. To be closer to the ground where I belong. The longer I stay, the more unstable I feel. It takes courage to Just Stand Up. Once conquered, I find that problems I was afraid of feel effortless and take on a kind of routineness. There's power in knowing I can eventually convert those routes I was most afraid of into that kind of control. 

Bouldering problems teach intelligence. Every route is a puzzle to solve. Sometimes I get stuck on just the first move, unable to work out that initial flow, thumping lightly and impotently onto the mats when I fall. Other times I find myself metres off the ground facing the wrong way. There is nothing to do but to start again. Climbing fosters problem-solving obsessions. That one route I just cannot get will echo in the back of my mind for a week's worth of work.  Finishing is tantalizingly close. Talking it through can be exceptionally useful- I recently completed a route during whilst describing why I couldn't do it. I was just about to say that the next move was my sticking point, when I realised exactly how to complete it.

A long course route we've been working on.
Climbing teaches focus. As a PhD student, this is one of it's joys. In running I find myself ruminating, "God I'm unfit, why do I suck, I suck as a researcher too...", and so on. Completing my mandatory self-flagellation for the duration of the run. With bouldering I feel focus. Its just about me and those holds. We aren't at war, they are a resource to use against gravity. I just need to work out how to best utilise them. In climbing I don't think about my failures, or anything at all. I forget to text people, I forget I really should be getting to work, I forget I'm even exercising at all, I forget to listen to my racing heart. I am busy climbing.



Bouldering lets you taste the achievement. In a very tangible way. Routes that used to be hard, become easy. I find this in particular after I move up a colour (colours represent grade brackets). The routes I used to find difficult in the grades below, are suddenly imbibed with this magical achieveability. There's definitely a mental quality to that- if I can do those above, I must be able to complete those below. Its faith. Routes that are currently impossible quickly become realistic goals for future sessions. My climbing partner and I have been working on a long course* too, which is great as you can, quite literally, see how far you have come

There is a kinship in climbing that develops very quickly. Climbers I don't even know, who are far superior, see my euphoria and congratulate me on my successes. Even though that route is easy for them, they understand the feeling. How it feels to be standing there, arms aching, but heart bursting. Climbing has its own language that others will only be happy to teach you. People throw up hints as you work on new routes, "fly the left leg out". They have never said anything mean when I have nervously said, "I'm... I'm not sure what that means".

Climbing levels the playing field in a big way. It isn't about how strong, flexible, fast, clever at problem solving, or dedicated I am compared to others. It is about how strong, flexible, fast, clever at problem solving, and dedicated I am compared to my own body weight and composition. Compared to my own mind sometimes in the case of routes I am fearful of or frustrated at. This is why you see pro boulderers of both genders attack the same routes. On Sunday, we saw some exceptional climbers at the centre tackle one of the most difficult problems. They danced up holds the length of a finger. Their genders were irrelevant. They ranged from 5 foot 2 odd to 6 foot 4 odd. They all did it. 

---------------------------------------------------------

Pick one of your sports, what do you love about it?

Ever climbed?

10 Comments:

  1. I used to climb, obsessively.
    I dedicated 3 years to climbing, I climbed mountains, ice, rock and became a feature at my local wall...however I have never taken to bouldering. Why? I'm not sure, I never felt that connection which is (in my mind) so strange. The best climbers are the one's having the most fun, if you want to learn how to move more efficiently then watch others, if you want to feel safe..then place your feet well because your hands will follow. I'm pleased you mentioned how kind climbers are, because it is true, the most 'scraggy' looking person will probably be the most unexpectedly helpful..I met some truly wonderful people climbing.
    When you ask what I loved about that sport, I would say it was the freedom, the views, the feeling of accomplishment and experiences that changed me.
    Thank you for writing such a beautiful post, it's wonderful for more women to be climbing. Rock on beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You say you dedicated 3 years, do you still climb? Its very interesting that you say you never felt the connection to bouldering, because I kind of felt the same way about roped climbing at an indoor wall, it sort of failed to grab me. That said, I would love to try some outdoor work.

      "The best climbers are the one's having the most fun"- spot on, the group I mention at the end were exceptional and fluid but also obviously having a total laugh.

      Thanks so much for commenting!

      Delete
  2. I've gotten pretty into climbing over the last year. I really love a lot of things about it, especially that it seems so much like a puzzle I need to figure out. I prefer roped climbing to bouldering, but I think I'm not patient enough with bouldering. One of my other favorite things about climbing is how welcoming climbers tend to be, especially compared to other adventure sports.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for commenting Lynn! Yeah climbers are so welcoming. I think because its so you vs yourself there is not any patronizing or showmanship.

      Out of interest, why do you say bouldering needs more patience? I'd be interested to hear :)

      Thanks for commenting!

      Delete
  3. I thought I'd responded to this a couple of days ago, sorry! For me, I feel like bouldering requires more patience because you're often spending more time on one tiny aspect of a bouldering problem in order to succeed. I can get frustrated with that, and prefer roped climbing because you can often find an alternate way up the wall. I should probably spend more time bouldering to develop those skills though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No worries Lynn! Thanks for clarifying :)

      Delete
  4. Amazing post! I think it's very true that it teaches intelligence and is a bit of a puzzle to solve, I find my mind works differently when rock climbing etc as a result!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you liked it :) It definitely does work differently!

      Delete
  5. This article articulates so much of what I love about climbing. The kinship that you mention is a very big part of that. Thanks for an enjoyable read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting Lawrence :)

      Also, it was so nice to meet you- Thanks for saying hi and for being so friendly (there's that kinship at work!)

      Delete

 
Strava