Why do I continue with climbing – what am I looking for and where will it take me? Do I just want to be a very strong climber? Do I want to climb Everest? Do I want to make great expeditions to the greater ranges? Patagonia, Pakistan, the Ruth Gorge, Baffin? Whats the end-game here?
Reading the news over the course of this past Everest season has had me asking myself all sorts of questions about how I see my own climbing practise. What am I looking for and where do I want to push further? I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time, but with a parental visit a while back I was considering it a little more deeply.
What really draws me in, what keeps me up at night and has me reliving my climbs for days afterwards are the brief moments. I love hard climbing (a relative term) and difficult tenuous movements. They are the minutes where the whole body strains, the mind is clear and movements are fluid. It is these few moments when the sweat and the pain are dulled by the sensation of moving with rhythm, flowing over the rock. That doesn’t come from a life spent in the gym or on a guided tour of a fixed line up a big hill.
Having said that, I love reading the accounts of the amazing journeys that my climbing friends and heroes have taken into the beyond. Going places wild and at times exotic. I think back to stories Fred Beckey once shared with me about some of his first major expeditions to Alaska and B.C. travelling to truly wild places and moving over ground that was really remote. That appeals to me, as does the sort of amazing stories I hear from friends who have travelled to the Himalaya and Pakistan. Travelling and climbing in these regions is certainly about the challenges of expedition climbing, but also about the journeys; the travelling companions one meets, the strange food one eats and the bad water.
I’m high up on the pitch, preferably several pitches in on a long route. The climbing has steepened up and I’m jamming a crack that is gradually thinning, with narrow finger-locks and poor feet. Beneath me the rope stretches back to the last station where my partner hangs in her harness. The gear is good, I feel safe and am running it out between pieces. The moves are powerful and my shoulders strain, while I tread delicately on small edges. My movements make me feel as though I am dancing, as my feet flag out on either side as I reach up for the next holds. These are the moments I love, the fear of being high up being crushed and pushed down by the sensation of control and the beauty of finding a rhythm and doing my little dance. Below are miles of glacier, of forest, rivers and moss.
So in the end Mum, I guess I want the road. I want the moments of flow and beautiful climbing in the wild places of the earth. And I want all the nauseating run-outs, the hours of suffering at bevies, the screaming barfies and the great loves that will bring all those experiences to pass.