“So, why do you do rock climbing?”
“It’s, like, really fun.”
This is not a particularly sophisticated answer to a question that I, and many other rock climbers get asked fairly often. However, it seems to be a better alternative to the eye-roll inducing speech that every climber has tucked away. You know, the one about how climbing is really a spiritual experience that takes you to a place you never could have dreamed of blah blah blah… THAT speech. I mean, it’s completely true, but we have to work pretty hard to not freak out new members of the climbing community by saying weird hippie stuff like that. And it’s impossible to deny that fun isn’t a driving factor when you consider that even the greatest climbers are just overgrown children scrambling up big rocks.
Of course, beyond the sheer enjoyment that comes with climbing, one has to consider the immense therapeutic benefits it offers. Everything can be made into a big, juicy metaphor when you’re a climber. Day to day challenges transform into tricky moves on a route; relationship troubles become a seemingly impossible boulder problem; failures are a fall that you weren’t expecting. And the brilliant thing about these dreadful clichés is that they make everything seem conquerable. You can fall off a route a hundred times, but if you push through, you can make it.
So, climbing is really just a way that overgrown children choose to deal with life. That is why, this past weekend, dozens of responsible adults ran away from the real world to participate in the 2017 Montagu Rock Rally. I hopped on the bandwagon, because the thought of staying home for the weekend to tackle my mountain of work was unbearable compared to tackling an actual mountain. I don’t feel guilty for spending my weekend on a rock instead of a desk chair. When I climb, I’m not running away from my responsibilities, I’m dealing with them.
Being on the rock with my legs shaking, forearms threatening to burst, the wind thundering around me… I can’t think of a better way to face my problems. Working a route really is a physical manifestation of working through any of life’s trials. The rock, in this metaphor, is the problem. It’s hard, it’s big, it’s tough. You’re doing everything you can to figure it out, and in doing so, the rock becomes an extension of yourself. Your fingers sweep across the holds, you press your hips against it and feel the stone against your core, you rest your feet on the tiniest of edges, trusting that they will not crumble beneath you. And so, the rock is not only “the problem”; it is also you, and by extension you become one with “the problem”. See what I mean about weird, hippie climber-talk?
So, you’re up on the rock, existing as this tangled, complex being, and you don’t really have any choice but to deal with whatever’s going on in your head. And the best way to do that is to climb. You will end up battered and bruised, but, somehow, healed. Climbing allows you to reach a kind of harmony with whatever mess you may be dealing with, and move forward to conquer any future challenges that life is going to throw at you.
You see? Climbing’s not just a bit of irresponsible fun after all. No wonder so many cheesy, motivational posters use pictures of mountains.
Featured Image: Markus Karlsen