I love to climb. I will never be really good at it, but that’s fine. I don’t climb to be great: I climb to be better. I climb to be.
Ultimately, climbing is about the movement, the dance and magic of will versus gravity. It is touching a vertical wall with as little of you as possible, making it beautiful and powerful and rhythmic. And not falling. But more than not falling; it is tenacity, trust and autonomy, love and fear and courage.
At its best, climbing is a meditation. Attached to the wall, fingers stuffed into cracks or clinging to pockets and nubs that make golf balls seem enormous, and standing on edges the width of coins, the size of pimples, there is nothing else in the world. It all drifts away and what's left is the six square feet in front of you, and that beautiful dance.
Climbing is an impregnable bubble that holds the world at bay. There’s a reverse magnetism in it, an ineffable pushing away of everything that crowds and bumps and forces. When it’s good, there is no sound but the breath, no sensation but the touch of rough and soft surfaces and the internal sway and pitch of balance and counter-balance.
There isn’t any room for the world, crawling up a wall. If the world is there, you aren’t – you’re falling. And there are days like that, days when life can't be closed out and the simplest moves leave you panting or pealing off. But those days are rare. Mostly, just staring at the rock is enough to quicken the heart and stir the wind that clears away the riff-raff, the kipple.
What’s left are clean angularities; natural geometries and puzzles carved into rock and stone, muscles and bone and blood. On a good day it’s ballet. The pivot and sway, pull and friction – it’s effortless, or it looks that way, feels that way.
When it’s done, make no mistake, there is exhaustion and shuddering breaths and hands shaking on the steering wheel driving home.
But it doesn’t feel like it on the wall, the wind blowing softly and the ground receding by inches. On the wall it’s just you and the ageless stone, a connection formed between fingers and toes and something indescribable. Like being plugged into a timeless energy, as stuck to it as it is to you. Welded to the earth and yet fluid. Climbing is like scaling a Telsa coil.
Climbing is submission and assertion, a giving and taking with the stone that is – must be – equal and complete. It is kinetic poetry, the wheel of thought and action flowing so quickly that it blurs. If success is measured by completion, then that completion only comes through symbiosis. It cannot be conquered, the rock. But it can be shared – it can share. And in the afterglow of that conjoining everything smells stronger, tastes better, feels more pure. Everything takes on a clarity that is heartbreaking and affirming.
It is impossible to not smile at the top of a climb. And often, there are tears. They are in honor of the effort and the grace, the fear and courage, and the sheer beauty of being present, truly present, if only for the time it takes to touch the stone and then walk away.