Finding Inspiration at Unlikely Heights
Rock climbing is a sport like any other: physical, mental, competitive if you want it to be. But as with any other sport, your fiercest opponent is always yourself.
I’ve been rock climbing since 2015. Coincidentally, my ability to solve problems and overcome obstacles has catapulted over the last three years. I didn’t realize why until recently. At the start, I never saw much in rock climbing besides fun and fitness, but now I’m beginning to see it as so much more.
The community of rock climbing is vibrant and eccentric, as is the lingo: proj, dyno, campus, mantle, toe-hook, heel-hook, crimp, “Send it, dude!” are all words you’d hear if you popped your head into a climbing gym or Camp 4 in the Yosemite Valley. The terminology is a bit ridiculous, but not without sense — as with any other shorthand, it’s designed to get to the essence of things.
- Proj = the route you’re working on, or projecting.
- Dyno = a way to advance along a route while moving your whole body at once, or dynamically.
- Toe-hook = literally hooking your toe around a hold to get a better grip.
And to those who have been climbing long enough, it makes sense why boulder routes are called problems.
It’s simple: you’ve got to solve them. And how do you solve a problem?
First, you look at it.
You stand on the floor, gripped by apprehension, insecurity, maybe even fear. A great, bleak wall towers over you. You think, I can’t possibly do that. But you can see the top. You can almost imagine how the view will look from up there — but you’ve got to see it for yourself. And there’s only one way to get there.
So you start. You place one hand on the wall, a foot onto a ledge, another hand, and then place your safety and success quite literally into your own hands.
And you climb.
One movement at a time, you get higher. Square One falls further away from you, and the top comes nearer. You gain momentum and confidence, and soon you’re moving with speed. You can’t believe how easy it is! You go too soon for the hold above your head, and your foot slips. Without warning, your body leaves the wall. You fall through open air and land on your butt and in an instant you’re planted squarely back in Square One.
But it’s alright. No one makes it on their first try. And you got farther than you expected. So you take a moment. Laugh at yourself. Brush the chalk off your butt and stand back up.
You start to climb again.
But this time, you take it slower. You think more deeply about the motions you’re making, the feel of the rock on your fingertips. You take stock of your body, where your balance is, your strength. You shift your weight, you hold the pieces a different way, and you focus on your breathing. And then you fall on your butt again.
But you keep at it. You take risks. You forget the fear of falling that kept you from reaching as far as you knew you could before. And soon, you’re closer to the top than you’ve ever been before.
That piece you couldn’t figure out before finally makes sense, and never again does it trip you up. The more you chip away at a problem, the further along you are able to go. You find that climbing this wall has less to do with your strength than your persistence. Even after you’ve tried and failed and fallen down a hundred times, you come closer to reaching the top with each successive attempt.
And all of a sudden, the crux of the problem is right before you. Your energy is sapped. You’re hanging onto rock with nothing but skin and chalk. From somewhere inside you, either right below the surface or way down deep, you pull out the very last ounce of yourself, reach one hand over the crux, and pull yourself up over the top.
The view is every bit as good as you thought it’d be.
These rock climbing problems are not unlike the problems we face in life.
A successful send up a rock wall takes more than strength. It takes focus and technicality. It takes careful consideration of not only the problem in front of you but of the tools you’re using to climb. More than anything, solving problem takes persistence. It takes being okay with falling on your butt more than a few times before finally overcoming it`.
Life, too, requires the same diversity of skills, and very seldom is pure strength enough to traverse it. Its challenges often look like a bleak wall towering over you — monolithic, immovable, impossible. But you’ll find upon closer inspection that even the monolithic challenges are nothing more than two, or twenty, or two hundred tiny steps, tasks needing to be completed, days needing to be lived. Making your way slowly up the daunting problem, one step, one hold, one move at a time is how you reach the top.
When something knocks you off the wall, you can choose to give up and walk away — going backward will always be easier than moving forward. Gravity will alway be pulling you back down to Earth.
Or you can choose instead to stand up and keep moving. You might fall back to Earth a hundred times and lose your faith a dozen more, but try enough, and you will reach the top. And it will be because of your persistence, your growth and your own self-reliance. Buy all ropes and harnesses and expensive equipment you can afford, and the best thing they’ll ever do for you is keep you where you are. The only thing that will get you through the problems in life is the strength in your hands and the drive in your heart.
Once you reach the top of your own personal rock wall, you’ll look down at each step it took for you to make it there and realize that if you could do it once, you could do it all over again.
Daniel is a writer and activist from Los Angeles.
Follow Daniel on Instagram: @saint.clarity