My brain on climbing

I was doing routes (I know, crazy right) with my friend Nicole the other day, and we were discussing what we love about the different aspects of the sport and how it affects us. I love getting into these philosophical/cerebral discussions with other climbers, because when you are so passionate about a "hobby" like this there is obviously something speaking to you on a much deeper level than "I really just like to pull myself around on a wall."

Climbing does something really therapeutic for me. It has really provided me with a vessel through which I can push myself, achieve and prove to myself that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. In the last year and a half I have really pushed the envelope on my own definition of fear, and have showed myself over and over that, even if something is scary, I can overcome that emotion and achieve at a higher level than I had previously achieved. There is something not only confidence-building, but character-building, about participating in a sport like climbing where you are constantly having to conquer your own mind in order to achieve more greatly. And I think that's pretty amazing.

It has also taught me a lot about focus on a singular action or singular moment, and how important that is. If I am near the top of a boulder problem and the move I am preparing for is difficult or potentially sketchy, I have two options: 1) Look down, check for my spotters and pads, consider my fall and think about and prepare for falling, then go for the move, or 2) focus, hone in on that move and execute it with precision. As most climbers know, hesitation often spells death when you are executing moves. I've learned a ton about my own weaknesses in terms of second-guessing myself and choosing to be cautious over bold, and climbing has helped to push me further into the "bold" spectrum and has killed my tendency to hesitate, be overly cautious, and second-guess.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kinney
I'm no routes climber, but each section of the sport has its own merits that I appreciate. I find climbing routes in particular to be really peaceful. Once you get a couple-dozen feet above the ground, it starts to get quieter - then you're just up there with your head, your gear, and the wall. This is particularly true when you're climbing outside, and you don't even have music playing to keep you company. It's almost like meditation for me. If I'm on an easier route it gives me time to think, and focus on breathing and my own movements. It's very cathartic and healing for me in a lot of ways.

You cannot let your own insecurities get in the way of achieving what you want. From a climbing perspective: If you love bouldering and excel at it, but find routes climbing scary and you can't send grades as comparably high as you do bouldering, do it anyway. The two parts of the sport complement one another beautifully - and I personally feel it is important to participate in both parts of the sport, even if it is informally. This is me - I, for example, only climb routes once a week. I find it scarier and not as fun as bouldering, and high-maintenance when it comes to gear and needing a partner. But, I do it anyway - it improves my endurance, it gives me new mental and physical challenges, and I refuse to be limited as an athlete. I don't want to have to pass on trips to incredible places like the Red because I can't lead climb or I can only lead 5.9 in the gym. So, I do routes to keep up my skills, but I focus on the portion of the sport I'm truly passionate about (bouldering), and I think that's okay.

If you are a routes climber, and that is what you love and you excel at it, but you find bouldering too difficult, too scary or it gets you down that you can't boulder V6+, do it anyway. I have climbed routes enough to know that bouldering is an essential skill, particularly once you get into the upper routes difficulty ranges. Those powerful, dynamic, and technical moves require you to have some skills traditionally found in bouldering. If you stink at boulders, so what. You're letting your own head get in the way of you participating in something. It's not like you have to do it all the time - focusing on your favorite aspect of the sport is fine. I just don't believe in getting in your head and letting it hold you back.


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