I’ve been rock climbing for a bit over a year now, and am surprisingly still sticking with it. I’ve never been one to go to the gym, but for some reason this kind of gym keeps me coming back for more. I would never lift weights but I guess I will lift my own weight up a wall a few times for fun. It helps that they change up the routes every week.
The reason I like it so much is that it works your mind and body on multiple levels. Obviously there’s the physical strength component. Fingers are stronger, callouses form, arms, back, and shoulders all feel more sturdy. But it didn’t take long for me to figure out that strength alone was not going to get me to the top. The second component to good climbing is balance and body positioning. After a few months I realized that using one leg as a counterbalance (a technique called ‘flagging’, rotating your hips into the wall, and focusing on getting your feet in just the right place made it a good deal easier on your arms. That’s cool.
But the third and final component, and the one that will be the most difficult for me to improve, is my mind. Two things in particular that can cripple a bouldering attempt: doubt and fear. When I am halfway up the wall, fingers are weakening from fatigue, it’s usually just a little thought that gets into my head, “you’re not going to make it this time” and I quit. (And if you’re worried at this point…quitting just means dropping a few feet off the wall onto the pads.). What’s a worse feeling is the fear. Fear is a good and healthy instinct but there are several times when I’ve really felt it. It usually happens near the top of a route I have never done before, and it often makes me forget to do everything else, namely, breathe and keep going. There are times when I’ve felt the sensation of fear and even after coming down off the wall it lingers with me for several minutes after. It makes the next attempt really hard to start and sometimes breaks my concentration for the rest of the session.
A single minded focus helps. So do other people cheering you on. I personally really like going to the gym without knowing anyone there. I just do my thing and nobody bothers me. Sometimes people do strike up conversations and I happily engage with them, but then they start to cheer me on on the wall, and I feel annoyed from the bit of pressure that I now have to finish this route to impress them. But sometimes it actually helps me do a route that I would have doubted I could complete alone.
Difficult things can be so rewarding when you finally push through and make it happen. For many months I was stuck climbing V0 and V1 routes (routes are rated from V0 – V10). When I finally got to V2 I was pumped. V3s seemed like an impossibility but just a few months ago I finished a V3 and couldn’t believe it. Today V4s seem impossible, but there’s always next week!
2 thoughts on “Lent Log Day 9: Rock Climbing progress – still afraid of falling.”
Thanks for continuing your writing through Lent!
When I was living in Boulder after college – going to seminary and working as a campus staff at CU, I found myself on the rocks several times a week. I would boulder with friends on Flagstaff Mountain or trade leads in Eldorado Springs and Boulder Canyon.
When I came to Boston I climbed a bit up in Franconia Notch and down at the Quarry in Quincy. But it was a harder thing to do here. We couldn’t just ride our bikes up the hill, set up a belay and climb. Rock Gyms and Metolus holds didn’t exist.
All this to say two things:
1. Go for it! I don’t know the indoor rating system – V1, V2, etc. But outside I was always relieved when I didn’t peel off when leading 5.10, so I assume it is something like that – a measure of how delicate the holds are combined with how sustained the pitch is. You’ll have to fill me in.
2. I think your analysis is spot on. Beyond getting technique and strength, the ability to focus is the most important ingredient. We used to say, “Fear narrows perception.” That is true in climbing and COVID-19. Climbing is a great way to practice trust and confront fear because it’s a controlled exercise. It feels risky and exposed but it is ultimately safe and secure. Like all of life under our Lord Christ.
God bless you as you continue through Lent. Climb on brother!
Jeffrey Barneson (c) 617-504-0214
Sent from my iPhone
Thanks Jeff! It’s also a great stress releaser during busy work seasons.
There are V-grades for bouldering and Decimal grades for rock climbing:
Fear narrows perception is so true. I’d add to that doubt that I mentioned in the original post. Its easy to forget that just a few months ago the V3s seemed impossible. Now the V4s look impossible but if I remember to aim for slow and steady progress my perspective widens and they become more like puzzles to solve rather than impossible feats to achieve. Thanks for the comment!