I woke up on Sunday and couldn’t clench my fist.
My friends and I went rock climbing two days in a row, and my body was unequivocally in shreds after hours on the rock.
My fingers were red and scraped, and as I ran my hands under my bathroom faucet, I winced as cold soapy water seeped into the scrapes and cuts that drew my fingers.
The blisters that had formed on the first day of the climbing frenzy were worn away to open sores after a four-hour indoor climbing session on the second day.
My forearms were like jelly, my shoulders like death, my heart like a vice. My entire upper body felt like it had been dragged through a trash compactor.
And a thought crossed my mind as I struggled to keep my hands under the tap:
“Why did I do this to myself? »
Climbing hurts. Grabbing rocks all day or plastic holds with sandpaper textures aren’t good for your body.
For a long time, I considered the sport of climbing, in all its many variations, as a fight between man and rock.
It’s a physical competition, and the rock tends to win more than the climber. Rarely does skin and muscle emerge from the eons of pressure and insane heat that form the mountains we strive to conquer today.
Seen in this light, climbing is a futile task.
And I’ve spent much of my relatively short climbing career thinking of the sport as a battle, but what has always eluded me is the feeling of always really “winning”.
I’ll work my way to the top of a route and the endorphins will flow, my spirits are high, but the war hasn’t been won – neither by me nor by the best climbers on the planet.
By the time you reach the top, you don’t have to look much further to see the next challenge.
Usually a tougher or more technical route is right next to you once you’re done, or when you’re soaring 1,000 feet above a cliff you can look up to see a multi-pitch draft spookiest awaits you on the horizon.
There really is no “winning”. There is no conquest of the rock.
It gets harder and harder, and even when the climbing community thinks the toughest climbs have been made, someone comes along and does something tougher.
There is no ceiling to reach, and in reality, there is no opponent to defeat. The rock challenges us, but it does not participate in the same way as the climber.
As the climbers assert their will and apply their strength, the stone is completely indifferent. Whether I fall or fly, the rock will always be there – motionless, unchanged.
Climbing is not a competition between the climber and the rock.
And it’s really not a thrill-seeking experience either. Rock climbing involves a lot of risk, and there’s a bit of a fear in crawling up cliffs, but it’s an incredibly safe sport.
The latest ropes and pieces of equipment have nearly eliminated all drastic risks from the sport. Carabiners and climbing ropes are strong enough to support the weight of an SUV.
As long as the equipment is used correctly, the danger of sustaining a horrible injury can be reduced to something close to zero.
Climbing is not the search for strong sensations, nor the “conquest” of the rock.
Fairly recently, I had a heated argument with a friend about two of rock climbing’s greatest accomplishments: the first ascent of Adam Ondra’s “Silence” and the first ascent of Tommy Caldwell’s “Dawn Wall”.
‘Silence’ is the highest single-pitch (one-rope-length) climbing route ever climbed, and ‘Dawn Wall’ is arguably the toughest ‘big-wall’ multi-pitch climb in the world. ‘story.
Ondra’s “Silence” is hidden in the cave of Hanshelleren in Flatanger, Norway. Caldwell’s “Dawn Wall” is part of the world’s most iconic rock climbing wall – Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan.
My friend and I couldn’t agree on which was the greatest achievement, and we couldn’t compromise because of a fundamental difference in how we view climbing.
This friend argued that the “Dawn Wall” is the greatest achievement because Caldwell overcame this massive stone wall. This monolith in the middle of Yosemite stands tall, high above the shoulders of the countless climbers it attracts each season.
“Dawn Wall” was an obvious, natural challenge that brought together man and the grandest landscape in all of creation. The purpose of the wall is not just to be climbed. The “Dawn Wall” is undeniably stunning and has intrinsic beauty beyond being something incredible to climb.
He argued that “Silence” sat in a remote and unknown cave in Norway, and that its sole purpose was to be the toughest climb ever. It didn’t matter before, and it’s insignificant outside of the small climbing community.
I passionately defended that “Silence” is the greatest climb in rock climbing history because it has never been repeated – interesting note: Ondra is the only person who has repeated “Dawn Wall from Caldwell – and because she pushed the boundaries of what people had previously believed possible in climbing.
Now I’m beginning to see that not only are the two accomplishments incomparable, but I believe we’ve missed the heart of what first ascent and all of climbing really is.
Caldwell’s ‘Dawn Wall’ attracted audiences from all over the world, while only a few friends witnessed the rise of Ondra’s ‘Silence’.
It really didn’t matter to either of the men watching. It wasn’t about anyone else. These climbers don’t hold a grudge against the rock either. It was not a battle to defeat the stone.
Climbing is an inner battle. The meaning of sport lies in growth – to climb higher than the day before.
While “Silence” and “Dawn Wall” are feats all of humanity can be proud of, these accomplishments are something these climbers can hold on to. These may be the toughest climbs a climber has ever done, but a truer reality is that these climbs will always be the toughest things Ondra and Caldwell will ever do.
Climbing is a personal and introspective sport.
It’s not about conquering the rock; it is about conquering us. It’s not about outdoing the last climber; it’s about getting over who we were the last time we climbed.
There isn’t always a view at the top; there aren’t always crowds of people to impress or prove wrong, and the rock is certainly not there to fight climbers.
Climbing is a journey of oneself. Ripping your hands up climbing rocks isn’t quite as glamorous as yoga or prayer – I see a commonality in the spirituality of rock climbing to any meditative experience.
It connects a test of the body to the conflict of the soul.
The heart of rock climbing is doing hard things. There is no profound success or failure in sport. There is no transcendent competition between man and nature. There’s not enough danger to call it a thrill ride, and it’s not an ideal way to find the beauty of the world.
The meaning of climbing is simple: to climb higher, higher than what was initially thought possible.
There’s no reward for winning, no adrenaline or beauty – it’s just about climbing higher and whatever that may mean to you.