Long long ago, in a crag far far away- alright, maybe not so far away, but seeing as I no longer have access to the IMA, it might as well be- I went out on a limb and signed up for a belay class with a then-acquaintance from marching band. In doing so, I ignored my history of being the kid who would get maybe 20 feet off the ground on a wall and then would lose her nerve and ask to be belayed down. My sophomore year in college I decided to embrace that ‘try everything’ spirit of college and in doing so I found a new passion that not only bonded me to one of my dearest friends, but also provided me with countless hours of enjoyment as I puzzled over cruxes and delighted in jugs. To the horror and frequent admonishment of my flute professor, I climbed as much as I could, sometimes so much that taking notes in class became a challenge for my poor hands.
I never could get into bouldering though. The routes felt harder, I didn’t like not being on a rope, and when I fell off a route and sprained my ankle, I stopped trusting my feet and became even more stymied by bouldering problems. After graduating and losing access to my beloved climbing gym, lacking the rack to climb outside, and finding my climbing friends busy elsewhere, I went from climbing 4-5 times a week to climbing to 4-5 times in a decade… maybe less. My beloved Mythos sat in my bag of ‘I’ll use it again someday’ athletic equipment for years. When I first tried them on again after a long hiatus, I was actually fairly convinced that between the leather tightening and my (seemingly) ever-growing ultramarathoning hobbit feet that I would need to buy new ones- creating a significant hurdle for getting back on the wall. With patience and a little bit of love, they finally formed to my feet again.
The other significant hurdle was an absolute dearth of possible climbing buddies. After months of getting Seattle-maybe’d on climbing plans for top roping, I finally decided that it was bouldering or bust if I wanted to start climbing again. Off to Seattle Bouldering Project I went, and after a seeming eternity of driving around in search of parking (why do climbing gyms *always* have the worst parking lots?!) I was standing in front of the most juggy, straightforward V0 I could find.
I got maybe ten feet off the ground before that familiar feeling of ‘Nope!! DO NOT LIKE!’ discomfort stopped me cold and I delicately down-climbed. Well, @#$k. I glanced over at the clock and decided paying almost $20 for two minutes of climbing was not okay. I steeled my nerves and tried again. I got to the same position and mentally coaxed myself into having a go at the next move. Somehow, through a series of both positive and negative self talk, I found myself hanging from the top of the wall shortly thereafter. For the next hour or so, I forced my runner’s body up and down a few more routes- enough to give myself a healthy case of DOMS for most of the next week. It wasn’t auspicious, but it was the start of a burgeoning romance.
Over the last year, I’ve gradually moved from predominately climbing yellows to a mix of greens, reds, and as of yesterday, purple. The transition from awkwardly push/pulling myself up the wall to my zen-sloth ways of old didn’t happen overnight, and it definitely wasn’t linear. There were the days when I could barely slog it up anything, and then there days when hitting the gym with a date would force me to bring my A-game. By the by, bouldering is an excellent first date activity. Finding out your date is a mansplaining beta-sprayer or the kind of guy who skips the hardest parts of the route is revealing in ways his beer or coffee choice is not.
My most recent climbing date had two revelations, both illuminating in their own way. The first was related to this-
Having been a solidly yellow-green climber for almost a year, the amount of cognitive dissonance I got from sending a red route threw me for a serious loop. A few moves into the route I almost jumped down because it was so unexpectedly easy and I quickly convinced myself something hard was coming up and I had no business even trying it- despite not struggling with anything. How frequently we limit ourselves by thinking we already know what we can and can’t do! Going up and over gave me a huge boost of confidence, which was only slightly deflated when I discovered that the rating system had changed. My imagined V3 nemesis was pretty comfortably in the V1 range, but pushing through something that I thought would be really hard gave me the courage to be more adventurous and I found myself taking on harder problems than usual. I climbed like a champ the rest of the night, and for the first time left with routes I was excited to throw myself at with fresh arms.
The second revelation maybe had has much to do with how the date went as it did with my climbing revamp- I was excited to come back solo. In a lot of ways, after a year of being frustrated in other climbing pursuits- alpine climbs foiled by logistics and bad weather, top roping trips Seattle-maybe’d, there’s a joy in the consistency of gym climbing and not having to count on anyone else to knock out a good climbing session. And when the climbing’s good, it serves as an illuminating moving meditation with so many parallels. Start from stillness and listen to what your body wants to do naturally to solve a problem, and how much simpler things seem. Make the move to grab that next hold before your arm tires out/hand slips and you have to work yourself back to that moment to do so- *if* you’re able to do it again. Find-don’t fight-the flow from one hold to the next. It’s not unlike when I’m really keyed into a piece of music and I find myself wondering as an interpretive artist about the emotional life of the person who wrote it. Is it possible to get insight into the inner life of the route-setter as well? I love to play the game of trying to guess whether the route-setter was a man or woman, short or tall, blessed with long arms and legs, and how they tackle problems not screwed into a wall.