Motives, Means and Opportunity.
'Climbing no handed is a pointless activity. Just like climbing.' - Johnny Dawes
Why do I like climbing so much? There's no doubting it: I love and obsess about it. A friend at university once explained that 'As soon as he tried it there was nothing else,' except he was talking about golf. I still don't really understand that. But I have sympathy with his statement.I first went climbing when I was about fourteen: our comprehensive unbelievably got money to spend on sport so got a climbing wall and a weight room I went for a term's worth of lunchtimes and I liked it well enough, we even went to a climbing wall in Newcastle. I didn't like it enough to really keep on though.
Then at Christmas 2012, my sister Alison suggested we go along to Durham Climbing Centre and I really took to it. It took me another ten months to find Highball in Norwich, and then I was off, climbing usually twice a week indoors and with a half a dozen climbing or mountaineering trips under my belt. I have heard descriptions of heroin addiction: that one third of your brain is always thinking about your next fix. That feels familiar, but with less needles and tin foil.
So, based on that I might say that I go climbing because it makes me feel good. No doubt. I usually come home from a session at Highball feeling really good: partly no doubt from endorphins and other brain chemicals etc produced by exercise. I have also come home from climbing trips (Wales 2014) with a deeply blissed out sense of well-being which would no doubt be banned if it could be sold.
|It felt amazing to be trying at all.|
I have discovered some specific, and weird, situations that lead to positive and negative emotions. On State of the Heart, 6c+, I could not get through the crux. The climb was bold and strong, weird with slopers and crazy angles, strong boulder problems strung together through crazy rests. It was physically scary, I remember babbling some right rubbish as I moved across a mini-slab.
But one feeling was unique, and new. It felt amazing because I was trying it at all. Like a real physical and intense rush. I don't mind that I didn't finish the problem, but when I do go back with better fitnesss and mentality, will it be an anti-climax? Probably. And the sun will sink into the sea and we will all die...
I have since had that feeling a few times at the wall, usually on problems that are at the top of the grade I climb, about 6cish font. Just to make a single move at the top of my ability means more than easier routes.
Other things are frustrating and negative within the relationship. I do not consider myself a competitive person - can't stand football and team sports, and I don't understand why someone doing better in a physical activity or skill means that they are 'better' than their competitor. The loser might be fantastic lover or the most generous of friends - and I think we have all met 'winners' who are total cocks.
I don't have any of that 'warrior' mentality of 'needing' to be the 'best'. It does not motivate me.
It motivates other people though. It is hard to avoid some level of informal competition at any climbing wall, whether it be with your mates trying a problem in turn, or someone jumping on a problem immediately after you. And pointedly grinning when they get it and you don't.
I try to avoid it. I don't want what climbing I do to be a measure against other people, I need it to be personal and centred around me. I am THAT vain. Also, it might just be that I really AM motivated by competition, but I don't compete so I don't lose! THAT would be messed up. In fact, I might be not competing in order to be better than everyone else and therefore winning... in a game with rules that neither I nor anyone else will ever understand.
So lets leave that alone because it doesn't make sense.
More subtle than competition is the need to have accomplished certain things to be able to belong to a group. In pre-history this would have been piss-easy. All you would have had to do was survive infancy, pass some kind of initiation and wear the tribal scars. Done. Your status within the group would then have been determined by 1. for the boys how well you did on the last hunt/raid or 2. for the girls how many babies you had popped out.
Easy and unambiguous. Today though, everything in the safe and cosy modern world is all a little bit optional. Being A Climber is its own tribal membership. I derive a large part of my identity from being able to say 'I am a climber', much more so than for work. Partly becasue my CV is so patchy it would make the most happy-go-lucky tramp look like a routine loving, change-averse, job-for-life civil servant. Perhaps a bit like Mick Fowler (tax man) or Paul Ramsden (Health and Safety Officer).
This sense of identity is a bit blighted by the opportunity. I live in Norfolk and the majority of my climbing is indoors. I take some comfort from the fact that I always 1. am reading a book about climbing, (guidebooks count), 2. know when I next can get outdoors and 3. can remember my last climbing trip and can bore for hours about it. Often in a conversation with loads of hand gestures showing just where it was I found that crimp.
|Essential photo for bolstering self-image as a climber|
This is not well understood by people outside of the tribe, but even in Norfolk everyone has at least heard of climbing. It is not like explaining that you are into Permaculture, which might actually save the world, or some niche historical interest like the Whaling History of King's Lynn (which is fascinating but largely forgotten). Non-climbers have at least heard of Everest, or Touching the Void, occasionally things like a free ascent of El Cap hit the news. And even the most sedentary of tv-watchers can say 'you must be mad, I can't stand heights'. (Secret fact: about a third of rock-climbers are scared of heights, and do it to overcome their fear - that's what I reckon anyway).
It means a lot to be able to describe myself as a climber, it means a lot that I get such pleasure from it. But you can always sound intelligent by stating 'I think its a bit more complex than that.' So I think I will finish by saying - its more complex than that.
Photos thanks to Lee Mitchell and Luiz Otaduy.