As I sank exhausted each night into the thin padding of the chilly space on the right side of the tent, I had just enough time before crashing into cough-broken slumber to ask myself if I was really enjoying this. And then I woke with the sun, savored the luxury of a cup of hot water boiled over propane, and maybe a few lines of Umberto Eco, packed up and toted my red backpack, filled with rope, equipment, food, water, an assortment of extra clothing, extra shoes, and so on, wherever we were going that day. The straps cut into my shoulders and I bent to shift the weight onto my hips, one foot in front of the next, feeling the strain in my knees. I will never be a Sherpa, I kept saying to myself. After a mile, two miles, or the entire morning, I would shed my pack and run as if weightless up the steps of Smith Rocks, the sweat cooling me in the wind. And then, if I was not too tired, I could hold onto small holds, crimping with the tips of my fingers, the very diminutiveness that had cursed me under the weight of the pack a boon.
The week-long climbing trip led me to decide one thing: I am probably going to primarily be a sport climber. I like the difficulty of sport more than I like the difficulty of trad. Trad is about exploration and reliance on what you yourself can place in the rock; the dangers of trad climbing are magnified by the conditions in which it often occurs. Sport climbing, on the other hand, is more about gymnastic ability and personal improvement. Often, it’s more social than trad; more approachable; more prone to lend itself to a laid-back afternoon at the crags with a motley crew of friends. At its most serious, though, it still appeals to me. I like the idea of lightness, the idea of flexibility and strength and balance, the idea of being so aware of your body and of the rock that one inch, one millimeter, makes the difference between sticking it and falling; I like the idea of being able to clip in quickly to what is safe. I like the idea of knowing the difference between rational and irrational fear; of knowing what I can do when mental and physical pain smooth out into a fluid dance with the ancient.
And I also like the idea of going home after doing that to a hot shower and my own sweet bed.
2 thoughts on “More on climbing”
I too prefer sport climbing. Trad is appealing but pushes me too far into fear, and I cannot enjoy it.
The only downside to sport climbing is that it is most amenable to locations that just about anybody can get too. And I’ve noticed that just about anybody is willing to try it out.
Before I destroyed my shoulder in a biking accident, my last climb at an in-and-out area was at Sand Rock in Alabama. On that trip, there were multiple groups waiting at every decent face, and most of them had no business climbing. In a period of a few hours, we had one guy drop straight down about 20 feet because he thought he was cool enough to be free climbing, constant kids/teenagers “free jumping” across rocks near tie-ins up top, and even one delightful character in our own party that decided it would be cool to play tarzan and start swinging across the rocks.
I don’t remember if this was a holiday and that is why there were so many “special” people out or what. I do know that most of us thereafter decided any decent “sport” climing was going to require a day-hike in and the full weekend.