Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Why I Climb

My relatives all have known for a bit now that I'm a climber, and every time the family gets together they ask what I climbed over the year, and the conversation always seems to end with them shaking their head at me and uttering some variance of "You're crazy!" and "Don't you know how dangerous that is?"
Well, yes.  Yes, I do.  
I guess I can understand that the first thing that pops in to the mind of a non-climber is the danger.  Far in the back country, high on a cliff, relying on your own knowledge, mind, and body to achieve your goal with just your partner as your backup.  More often than not, help (and more importantly, medical help) is hours away (Scott and I joked that if one of us twisted or broke something in the Wind River Range, we would just have to take a lot of painkillers and do our best to walk out of there).  
But there's something else I get.
I get the heady feeling of looking 1000 feet down a cliff and knowing that by my own power, I got to where I was.  
I go to places that very few people on the planet venture.  Instead of wandering around paved trails in National Parks with thousands of other tourists, it's often just my partner and I, with no one else around for miles.  
Even in the National Parks, I get views and experiences that only climbing offers me.  For instance, when climbing at Five Open Books in Yosemite Valley, I felt the mist of Yosemite Falls on my face as I belayed.  I got to look down the side of Eichorn's Pinnacle in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, and feeling the thrill of 1000 feet of open air below me. 
But most of all, the feeling of pushing my boundaries- both physically and mentally- is what brings me back to climbing, again and again.  Pushing to the edge of control, when I almost can't hold on due to fatigue, and still finding the calm center to keep going.  Hiking with pounds of gear on my back, but choosing to sing with joy up the trail instead of complaining of the weight or miles.  Falling again and again on a climb because the difficulty is just beyond my grasp, but coming back to it to try again.  Or collapsing at the end of a long day of climbing, not even able to grasp the steering wheel to my car because my arms and hands are so tired.  
Yes, climbing is dangerous.  A lot of people have died or gotten seriously injured while climbing.  I've had my fair share of bumps and bruises, and I expect to receive more as the years go on.  
But in this day and age, I am actually more likely to get injured in a car accident, or a bike accident, or some event that could not have been predicted.
My post this morning was actually prompted when I read this blog post by Jill Horner, a writer and athlete who competes in long-distance races, mountain bike races, and difficult trail races all year long.  Recently, one of her good training partners lost control of his bike on a paved 5-mile ride to work, shattering his femur in 5 places.  This guy is an avid mountain biker, competing in intense long-distance races across unforgiving terrain (such as a 2,350 km unsupported mountain bike race across South Africa) on a regular basis.  Yet his injury occured on a short bike commute that he took every day, involving no cars or other bikers, only rainy conditions.  Jill's conclusion was "Life is Dangerous.  All of it.  Dangerous", and "I might as well embrace it."
This particular post struck a chord with me.  I completely and wholeheartedly agree with her.  Climbing gives me opportunities and accomplishments that push me and make me feel complete.  Just because the possibility of danger is there doesn't mean I shouldn't do it.  If that were the case, I should sell my car and hole up in my apartment to avoid a car accident, or stop dancing to avoid another knee injury.  Life is meant to be lived.
And through climbing, I intend on doing just that.
I'll just be a little farther off the ground than most... :)


Katie said...

As a fellow climber, I totally agree with everything you said here!

Mark said...

Reading your wonderful gift to me (David Grann's 'the Lost City of Z'), about Percy H Fawcett's quests to explore & survey blank spots on the maps of the Amazon, he notes how one Fawcett seeker (attempting to retrace his route into the deep thick jungle) categorized people on the basis of their reaction to his plans. The Prudent - 'how extraordinarily foolish'; the Wise - (same start, then) ...but at least you will know better next time; the Romantic - 'go for it'; the truly Envious & their opposite - 'wish I could join you' & 'glad I'm not going'; the Apprehensive - 'have you made your will?'; and those 'who had done a certain amount of that thing in their time' - who offered beaucoup advice. I wondered which of these (if any or many) you'd use for your parents.