I am going on three years now of rock climbing. In the grand scheme of things, that is very little. I really enjoy still feeling like I am in the beginnings of something new. The progress I have made in such a short time makes me proud, and the years I still have ahead of me keep me motivated.
Despite only being in my life for three years, climbing has taken up a huge part of who I am as a person. Since moving from Colorado, to Illinois and now Peru, climbing has been the one thing that constantly keeps me emotionally happy, physically challenged and spiritually active. Since climbing consumes most of my thought processes on most days, I figured I would write a post about some of the reasons why I love it so much and why it has become such a crucial facet in my adult life. Along the way there will be some photos from some of my favorite climbing spots.
1.) Having been relatively mobile over the past 3 years, climbing has allowed me to meet and create relationships with people no matter where I am. Rock climbing forms friendships like no other sport or activity I have partaken in. The reason for this I think is the necessity for trust. Whether your in the gym or outside, bouldering or on ropes, climbing brings people together because we use one another to keep each other safe. After a day of swapping catches you feel as if your belayer and you have a special connection regardless of if you met at the crag that day or have been climbing partners for years. My favorite is the warm and heartfelt ‘thank you’ between climber and belayer that comes after coming down from a climb. You kept your partner safe, or visa versa, and accompanied them in a beautiful and powerful experience.
Beyond forming relationships based on keeping each other alive or from getting badly injured, rock climbing also forms relationships based on common interests. The ground we stand on as climbers is often built up from the same passion and respect for the natural world. Often times, climbing isn’t the only activity we enjoy doing outside. Climbers can also be skiers and snowboarders. Climbers often enjoy camping, hiking and backpacking. A lot of climbers appreciate cycling, slacklines and fishing in the river or lake. Climbers enjoy burning wood, looking up at the stars and sleeping on the ground. The sport of climbing just becomes another avenue through which we are able to share our interests for other things and experience them together. Some of my dearest friends come from one rock trip, one weekend, where we dove headfirst into pushing our limits, while keeping each other safe and loving the environment surrounding us.
2.) The next reason why I love rock climbing builds off the last one, especially when thinking about the natural environments you find yourself in while rock climbing. Most times, climbing gets you outside and into extremely beautiful places. Yes, there are some crags that maybe have graffiti, trash and other unsightly things, but for the most part, the natural areas you get to access while climbing are incredible. Even artificial climbing areas like gyms can be pretty if you’re into bright colored plastic.
Climbing areas are most always beautiful because they require you to get out of town and into the mountains, canyons, river beds, gorges and deserts. A lot of climbing, at least in the United States, comes hand in hand with protected land and National/State Parks. In other words, they are so special, that even the government has said that they should be held on high and protected. Now of course, not all climbing is protected. But even the roadside crags and backyard boulders are a nice reprieve from the otherwise urban world we inhabit.
What it comes down to is chasing geology. You can’t rock climb without rocks. And because we have chosen to create civilizations around water and relatively flat surfaces, the rocks we need to climb are almost always outside of the city. The distance we achieve and disconnectedness we feel at some of our favorite climbing locations reinforces the beauty of the place and experience we have in it.
3.) Rock climbing has had immense impacts on the condition of my physical body. In fact, it was falling in love with these changes that made me appreciate rock climbing so much more. I love what it does for my body. This might sound a bit conceited, but the way my body has transformed after climbing for three years is incredible. Training my body for rock climbing is a constant reminder of how special our bodies are. We only get one of them, so why not make it as strong as possible? I appreciate my body so much more now that it fights for me during climbs and training sessions. And when it heals for me so I can do it all over again the next time.
I have never been an out of shape dude, or especially embarrassed or ashamed of my body. However, climbing has brought my confidence to a new level. I by no means am the strongest guy in the gym or crag, but I am content with the personal improvements I have made and the trajectory I have set for further gains. Plainly said, climbing makes you feel strong and sexy. It shows you what your body is capable of. And when you are not capable, some training and repetition is all it takes to surpassing limits previously thought were unattainable.
4.) Climbing is not only a physical endeavor. There is a massive mental component to the sport. Some might say that being a successful climber is majority mental toughness. I would agree with them. In the act, climbing forces me into a mental state of hyper focus and flow. When I am hyper focused, I am thinking only about what is in front of me and what I have to do accomplish the climb. I am planning my next moves, assessing the rock, calculating fall consequences, checking in my with body, breathing. All of this, it seems, at the same time. When I am in a flow state, I quite literally am not thinking about anything. I am in the sway of a moving meditation. My body is moving intuitively while my mind relaxes and enjoys the reprieve from mental chatter and ego.
Before the actual act of climbing, I am en uncontrollable energizer bunny. I cannot wait to get to the crag. I want to sleep well. Make a good breakfast. Prepare lunch. Leave on time. And approach quickly to the crag. I can stop thinking about the adventure I am about to partake on. If I know where I am going, I am visualizing the climbs. I know where I will place my pack, how I will unpack, and the knot I will tie in order to start climbing. I can see the holds and mimic the movements of the climb. I visualize reaching the chains and lowering off, or reaching the next belay stance and bringing up my second. All of this mental work is a ritual for me. It prepares me to climb as well as possible.
After a beautiful day of climbing, I am overwhelmed with post-climb stoke. I am so grateful for the day and for the people I shared it with. I am grateful that everyone is safe and able to climb another day. I look back at the rock we just climbed and can once again see myself on it. If it was an especially big multi-pitch day, I am in awe of the gigantic piece of rock that just allowed me and my friends to scale its walls. On the hike out, I am excited for what comes next. Sharing a meal. Drinking some beers. Talking about our favorite climbs of the day on the drive home. Making jokes over a roaring campfire. And talking about the next big climb or the next project on the ticklist.
5.) These reasons and processes brought together create a spiritual experience for me that I have not been able to create with any other activity. Although an epic winter of skiing is a close second. The people I am able to connect with, the places I am able to experience, and the facets of my physical and mental self that I am able to refine all coalesce into something magical. Because of rock climbing, I feel a closeness to my fellow brother and sister climbers that spans across geographic, cultural and linguistic barriers. I love them deeply. I am awe of the natural landscapes that I am able to explore while climbing. The places I pitch my tent, the sunsets and sunrises. I uncover an appreciation for myself and a quality of self love that is otherwise hard to attain. I feel connected to it all. The people. The places. The self. I reap spiritual satisfaction from climbing and all that comes with it more than any other religious or spiritual route I have tried to experience.