August 1, 2017

While pushing ourselves climbing, where or when do we draw the line and call it a day? We’ve all been there.

“Just one more go!”

This question actually conjures a whole set of considerations:

In what style do you wish to climb?
Are you enjoying yourself?
Is ‘topping-out’ all that matters?
If so, perhaps ask yourself, “why?”    

In the climbing community, the ‘try hard’ spirit is an awesome thing that keeps the psych high and empowers progression; Additionally, it’s unpleasant seeing people punt off the wall, seemingly dropping from spontaneous paralysis – not appealing. However, there’s a point where clawing, kicking, and shaking through every move equally delivers a disservice. When finding ourselves swimming in these angsty waters, let’s ask, “why do I climb?”

It’s doubtful anyone’s climbing pursuit includes fumbling his or her way to the top; however, it’s a common scenario. Aside from considering the aesthetics and joy of climbing, this touches on an old baseball mantra: “practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect! So, aside from climbing for climbing’s sake or enjoying the process, lets keep in mind that true progress comes from constructive practice, not clawing at the wall, as if life depends on it.  

A good rule is to always keep ‘climbing’ as a raw fun, unadulterated by ego or stressful pressure. To me, this is best encountered while either onsighting or perfecting old moves, when you’re pushed, yet comfortably able to rise to the occasion of each difficult sequence. If you’re dabbing, flag-dragging, skidding, reversing, etc., it’s not a top quality experience. Perhaps it’s better to let the day’s lessons settle and the body adaptively repair, waiting to return when you may climb beautifully, fluidly, every move delivering that ‘raw fun’ which is, in essence, why we climb.


Pick Your Line

It’s possible that at times, our appetite is too big for our stomachs; we can jump on something that is beyond what we are ready for. It’s a common scenario for those returning from injury or long sabbaticals from climbing; the excitement seeing friends working ‘the proj’ or making enticing moves on the tiniest crimps, seduces hasty decisions. This can even happen when a person fails to properly warm-up, or overuses static stretching before climbing. Not only do such scenarios lead to bad performance, it could lead to injury. Prior to picking your problems or routes, be mindful of where you are at physically, and make an intentful effort to warm your engine slowly before pushing it!

When the time comes to pull hard, consider your body and the moves before you: are you prepared? Maybe you have a painful joint, sore muscle, stomachache, or general exhaustion from a sleepless night. Whatever it is, be smart, be prepared, climb it well. If everything checks out, allow your body to anticipate the moves before pulling off on the wall. As it’s been said, ‘the body cannot go where the mind has not already gone,’ but lets take it a step further: prepare the body so it may work effectively. More often than not, the climbing that you push yourself on will require intense moves; taking a moment for dynamic stretching to emulate that aggressive high-step or reachy gaston will not only prepare your mind, it primes the body for what lies ahead. That desperate move will be a lot more controlled when you prepare yourself both mentally and physically.

While instructing beginners, I often share how a number of months are required to develop a base-line strength, which transforms climbing into the meditative puzzling we all enjoy. As more challenging rock is pursued, strength may be a consistent variable to address; however, solving the puzzle will remain the greatest factor for success. If you doubt this, consider the tendency of spraylords at the local gym or crag, ready to spew beta as if waving the golden ticket. And yet, beta or not, it largely comes down to the abilities of the climber to execute such moves. For example, if you’ve only mustered the ability to play Chopsticks on the piano, don’t expect to sit down and play Beethoven anytime soon. Keeping reasonable expectations while pushing oneself in a linear path is vital for maintaining good form, physical health, and the joy of climbing.


The Send

When it’s over, it’s over, and there’s nothing better than looking back on warm memories, time well spent, growing from the experience. Perhaps far greater, consider the quality in which you wish to finish it. There’s a certain extra stoke from doing it well; this counts for life in general, but especially with climbing.

If missing out on pleasurable movement is a non-issue, ‘to each their own;’ but consider how good it feels to link those mesmerizing sequences, and the brilliance of making easy, what was previously impossible. Taking the time to truly learn the moves is part of the much-discussed ‘Process.’ Once you finish the climb, the story is over; what’s next? Did that send mean as much as you thought it would? Often, not rushing the process leads to the best outcome—a lasting satisfaction.

If the climb is a special piece of rock, elegant and regal, or spunky, if that’s your flavor, act accordingly! Establish your session as a serious date; don’t make it a fast-food drive through experience. If this date challenges you, that’s a good thing. In fact, in the face of adversity on the wall, take time to appreciate what you have yet to learn or acquire; let it change you, shape you. A climb may require many sessions to do it right. So, enjoy the process.


The Bigger Picture

When we fixate on the prize, all else is missed. As stated earlier, consider that most of our time is spent in the process. The excitement of toping out on a difficult route or problem is a momentary thrill. So, it’s apparent that if we are only truly happy from sending hard, then the great majority of our climbing life will be spent un-happy, dissatisfied. To maintain happiness, we must tap into the joy of climbing, the people we share it with, and the inspiring places it takes us. There is so much that rock climbing offers without the extra excitement of topping-out. Some of my favorite memories were on designated ‘rest days,’ brushing holds and supporting friends on what inspired them. Never forget to smell the roses and take in all that climbing offers us.

A Final Thought

When the fun wanes, consider stepping back and plugging into the other joys of climbing, adventuring. Of course though, if you’re halfway across the planet with no hope of returning, by all means, send the damn thing! Otherwise, maintain satisfaction in the climbing itself, not so much the objective, which will eventually come. Misappropriating all attention to the conquest limits us from possibly the greatest aspects of climbing, such as moments with friends or often, the incredible places it takes us.

Photos courtesy of Seth Kazmer