Initially, like other climbers, I started climbing because I had a couple of climbing-like experiences (a ropes course and a via Ferrata) and was intrigued by just how intense the fear of heights was. Logically, I knew that I was protected, but I still could not stop over-gripping the ropes. The reaction was extreme, and I wanted to explore it.
I also figured that it would be an excellent cross-training for my other activities. My main exercise is running, which is very good for prolonged, slow aerobic exercise, but not good at the kind of anaerobic bursts. And it puts a lot of emphasis on some muscles while leaving others mostly unused.
What Happened? Finally?
Finally, I found that it’s surprisingly meditative. No matter how bad your day is. No matter how hard it is to get your mind off something. There’s nothing like being 15 feet up the bouldering wall and feeling your hands get tired to focus you. I was very impressed by watching all of the experts when they set up a new problem, all of them staring at the wall, mentally planning the route, and practicing the problematic bits.
I did one at sight the other day, but I rarely get on the ropes and still haven’t learned to trust them. That’s a matter of practice, I’m sure. When I get above 20 feet, I get agitated, and things I know that I can do become impossible mentally. I will continue to work on that.
The Appeal Of Climbing For Climbers
· It’s physical. Rock climbing works out like no other. It’s dynamic, isometric, and widely varied. It makes you use your whole body in different ways for every different route you climb.
· It’s mental. You could go from a weight set to the machine to the treadmill to get the physicality of rock lifting, but in rock climbing, at the same time you’re working your muscles, your mind is racing to solve problems. You stop asking, “what do I grab next?” and start asking, “If I start with a left foot on this toe chip, then reach up with the left hand, then step here, then go there, will I be able to get past that tricky spot? Or should I start on the right foot and cross over, then…”
· It’s dangerous, and that’s exciting. You’re pushing your mind and your body in complex problems, and at the same time, if you screw up, you fall. There’s risk involved, the act of overcoming fear, and it gets the adrenaline going.
· The places you go to are beautiful. When you stop at the top of a cliff and look out at the spectacle of nature around you, it’s pretty darned impressive.
· You bond with others. Someone (I can’t remember who) once said that all you need to be a great boulderer is a pair of climbing shoes, a chalk bag, a crash pad, and a good friend to stand beneath this and yell “YOU GOT THIS!” Everyone’s cheering for each attempt, and you’re all standing around group problem solving, speculating on holds, footwork, and the details of the problem. In trad climbing, it’s you and your belay/climbing partner. You’re tied in together and counting on each other for safety hundreds of feet above the ground. That’s trust!