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Ode to Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is my favorite exercise. It requires a great combination of strength and intelligence. In order to rock climb, you need to lift your own body, so you have a more intimate sense of the strength and power you possess. It rewards you for being maximally efficient with your own body and strength. The confidence this gives you is huge. You learn to stretch your reach to the fullest. You learn that you can rely on a single hand and sometimes even a single finger if you need to. There are times that you think you cannot get to or hold on to the next hold, but you latch a single digit on the top and find it is just enough purchase to get the other finger on and proceed. You get a fine sense of your strengths and weaknesses. Your body is built to be good at some things and challenged by others. I am particularly good at reachy and crimpy routes. I am really bad at pinches and confined spaces. Rock climbing forces me to adjust to the environments where I am challenged, and it rewards me with areas where I am strong. It is the only reason I have any upper body strength, yet it does keep me fit and strong.

It is a big part of why I can be confident outdoors when climbing something is absolutely necessary. It is a challenge I look forward to because I have improved a lot, but there is still a long way to go. It is also something that can be done either alone for bouldering or with a friend in any form. It is one of the few activities that I have consistently had an exercise partner, and I am more willing to open up and offer thoughts and ideas about how to climb better. Rock climbers are also generally very healthy, hot, and happy, none of which are a detriment to the activity. When I am rock climbing, I can test my strength against the walls and holds. I can be a superhero scaling vertical walls or climbing under-hangs. Physics comes alive in a wild dance of gravity and friction. It is my chance to break free of gravity and use the tools of the world to transcend it.

With this comes a great intellectual challenge. Your mind is always engaged when you are climbing. You are evaluating each and every muscle in use, its potentials and its current expenditure of energy. You are mindful of the wall, the textures and nuances of the holds, the potential of a fall, your energy, and the both the next and ultimate goals. Each move is unique. It may use muscles you never knew existed. It may require you to position your body perfectly to gain the friction you need. It may be a reach you did not expect. It may have a reward or a new challenge when you accomplish it.

No matter what, you need to simultaneously think and live in a meditative state to figure out how to best accomplish the move. You can spend an hour analyzing a single move, and it gives great satisfaction when you accomplish it. You can’t help but break out in a smile when you finish a project route. You feel a rush of adrenaline when you finally get to the top where you can finally break your concentration and look around at the vastly new and unique view provided by being at the top of things. You can look at each hold with a sense of victory and remember that it was the connected effort of your body and mind that got you there. Because rock climbing has the puzzle-aspect to it, it is great for me. I love that I have a lot to think about as I accomplish a deceptively simple task. It is so nice to be able to bring your brain fully into focus when many forms of exercise need more of the trance aspect to accomplish. I can let my mind wander over the wall and the world while I condition myself.

I prefer to climb in the gym because to me it feels safe. There is a lot of safety equipment in the gym and less variability that can come up outdoors. I also very rarely hear about injuries sustained in the gym while outdoor climbers often recount tales of close calls and significant injuries. The enclosed system of the gym certainly has dangers, but they tend to be very predictable and can be guarded against somewhat by good habits developed over the years climbing. Rock climbing is one of the few activities that I have come back to again and again. There are times I have stopped or been unable to climb for days or even years, but I consistently find myself back at the gyms.

I started when I was young, and so there is a certain amount of natural instinct that I have trained into myself when climbing. I can still aspire to be as good a climber as when I was younger (because I was better at 14 than now). This gives me motivation to continue and confidence that I am actually capable of doing the routes. I am currently in what I would consider to be an intermediate range for bouldering and a fairly advanced range for top rope. I love that bouldering translates so effectively into being a better climber in other areas. It was and is so gratifying to go from V4-5 range (solidly in the middle) in bouldering to being able to climb 5.11 (out of 5.12) consistently. It speaks to how well bouldering teaches you to move intelligently and how it builds the muscles needed to make difficult moves of which there are fewer in the top rope realm. Despite these accomplishments, there is still a long way to go, and because they reset the routes frequently, there is often a new and changing set of challenges to try myself against.

Most times, I am eventually successful on the projects I find. Sometimes, I am defeated. However, rock climbing is one of the activities where my determination shows itself in the full. It I easier for me to get up and try a route again. It is also easier for me to accept the changes that come with rock climbing and new routes. I actually look forward to the days on which they re-set where in most places in my life I crave consistency. This gets me out of my box comfortably. I can climb out frustrations and turn them into victories. I can keep myself sane and healthy, think about everything or about nothing. I can simultaneously look at the task at hand and resolve all manner of challenges outside the gym. It provides the combined euphoria that comes from challenging exercise and peace of mind that comes from considered thought. I have the chance to practice so many things that give me a sense of accomplishment and yet still have a large space to grow and get stronger.