soul climbing versus grade chasing redux

10 05 2008

after some serious thought on this post, the issue of soul climbing versus grade chasing is a false binary. the crux of the matter comes down to time and memory i think. how have we spent our time and what moments do we recollect as signposts in spending it. do we remember a number? hell no. we remember good laughs and good times. we remember rained out boulders and campfire beers. we remember trying hard and sometimes we remember failing despite our best efforts.

most importantly, i think, our memory is tied to people. after months of climbing mostly alone I could attempt to offer up some sort of sage wisdom from my connection with the rock. to a certain degree there is something interesting about pulling motivation from yourself. all you have is that particular snippet of rock and your willingness to sort it out. and while its certainly cool to confirm that you can squeeze enough effort from yourself to come away with the big win, what really stands out is the importance of friends in the endeavor. it’s similar to the tree falling in the woods bit; what is success or failure in a void other than a hand slipping from a sliver of rock?

i guess what i’m trying to offer up is a third way for climbing truthiness. it’s about the grades inasmuch as we challenge ourselves. it’s about our connection to the rock inasmuch as we focus on the experience. but in the end – the third way – I think its about having rad people to climb with. the other two components are meaningless without a social milieu to compare them in. the import of grades or climbing alone requires an ‘other’ for them to be different in any meaningful way. in other words, finding inner strength in the solo is only awesome if there is some ‘not that’ to compare it to, just as climbing 7C requires there be a ‘consensus’ 7B+ we can do and a ‘consensus’ 7C+ that we cannot.

what does this have to do with a philosophic approach to climbing? simple. climb as hard and as focused as you can with people you like.  the rest is meaningless.

back in kentucky,





One response

14 05 2008

I agree that the climbing experience is easiest to remember and relate by linking it to our interactions with people, but I think that for most people even that’s a little too broad. At least in my mind, it’s not just every banal conversation at the boulder field or cloying inside joke that keeps the memories perpetually fresh. Actually, it’s a very specific type of interaction with a very specific type of person, and for many people who are good at climbing and little else, it’s pretty much limited to our time out at the crag.

Maybe without any further significance I would have remembered that V10 that I crushed in a few goes a few months ago, but probably not. To me, that will always be the problem where I did that shit to that one chick, and I thought she’d like it but she was kind of pissed off even though later she came back for more. Similarly, I really doubt that I’d remember the V9 that I basically walked up while carrying on a conversation if it weren’t for the two guys who were waiting for me behind the boulder after I downclimbed, and the fact that while at first it was fairly unpleasant, I eventually had a pretty good time.

Like most climbers, the grade is important for me when I walk up to a problem, because it allows me to prepare mentally for the climb: a very difficult problem near my limit requires a very different attitude and approach than a warm up at the beginning of the day. That’s why I relish the unexpected encounters with Norwegian twins, amazonian surfer girls, and slightly underweight French road-trippers so much: they’re about as likely to occur after a V3 as a V8, so you never really know what to expect. By equalizing our memories of hard climbing with our memories of easy climbing, they allow us to focus on what’s really important.

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