Recently I was talking to a group of writers, and the typical question of what kind of writing do you do floated around the room. When it landed on me for an answer, I had mentioned the novels I am on and off working with and my rock climbing articles. The questioner asked “Well what’s exciting about rock climbing? Do people have to chop off their arms for survival and stuff?” My reaction was first a grimace that non-climbers only know of the sport through the lens of Aron Ralston’s unfortunate accident or Alex Honnold’s 60 minutes special. To be clear, I have nothing but respect for Alex Honnold and think he is a great guy, and Aron Ralston’s story is a compelling tale of bravery with some potential lessons to be learned about adventuring solo safely. However, neither of them captures the world of rock climbing accurately. Honnold does just a type of climbing in a large range of types of climbing, and Ralston’s story is more hiking/scrambling.
In the next moment, the reaction shifted to a smirk. What isn’t exciting about rock climbing? I cannot think of one quick sentence to wrap up the excitement in a sweeping generalization and short synopsis of the sport because to me there is none. Yet when the question is proposed, I find a flood of memories take over my mind. Little snap shots of all the different things that to me make the sport exciting.
The outstanding views of nature make climbing exciting. Sure, I could experience nature anywhere doing anything, but all the most beautiful views I have seen in my lifetime have been a result of climbing. The moon pictured above does not even do justice to the moon we saw when hiking down from the boulders in the Buttermilks of Bishop, CA. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a sky so spectacular it could match the emotions I’d imagine feeling seeing an Aurora Borealis for the first time. The display of colors and light as they spread across the sky in such a unique way around such a large, luminous moon was indescribably monumental.
The sight of a vibrant, colorful rainbow that arched from one mountain peak to the next, over a peacefully babbling river of pure white rapids and sparkling clear water, filled with pebbles and boulders in various shades of gray and brown, was only seen because I was climbing at Clear Creek Canyon in Golden, CO.
I remember the sense of wonder that filled my head and twinkled in my eyes as we walked through the breathtaking foliage the Red River Gorge, KY holds. Leaves bigger than my head scattered across the ground; white like sheets of paper on the back and lush green or golden on the top. Large golden and red ferns, and eye popping purple flowered trees. We walked to a cave and a thin waterfall splashed over the top and rained down like sparkling glitter. We watched it through branches of golden leaves as a ray of sunlight fell on it like a spotlight emphasizing the shimmer of the water drops. We saw rock formations like looked like ancient carvings and clay sculptures displayed like an art gallery along the walls of the cliff.
Rock climbing brings you to gorgeous places you may not have otherwise seen. It fuels your sense of adventure and exploration by allowing you to see unique plant life, adorable animals, and a culture/way of life different from what you are accustom to. It really broadens your prospective of the world and opens it up in new and interesting ways. I’ve learned so much more about the world, its entrancing landscapes, its diverse population of life, and how much is out there than I ever would have at school, work, or anywhere else. That is exciting and valuable in an incalculable way. The way it expedites personal growth in the way it challenges your mind and body is remarkable.
Let’s not forget all the excitement that comes from the actual act of climbing. The overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment when you push past your own perceptions of your limitations and reach new levels of possibility within yourself, is indeed exciting. That adrenaline rush that overtakes your body and puts you into strong as a superhero mode when you fear a fall, how high you’ve come, or that your last quickdraw/gear placement might not be super dependable is a bit more than exciting. It also feels like an understatement to call that moment when you’ve solved a crazy competition problem by using strength and problem solving skills you didn’t know you had before, merely exciting. And what about when you pull yourself up into a ridiculous move that seems to defy gravity, use technique that makes you feel like rock star, or realize you’ve just pulled your whole body up a route on holds you can’t even see from the ground? That is amazing!
Another area of excitement for most people comes from the social aspect of climbing. Climbing builds strong bonds. It is possible to go to a gym and talk to a bunch of people you won’t get really close to. However, the people you pick as your steady belay partners or the ones you go on incredible trips with often are strong bonds. We find people we literally trust with our lives and actual put them to the test with that on a regular basis. We find people we genuinely open up to in our moments of deepest fear, disappointment, and self empowerment. We grow with people who are at our sides through all of it. We share moments no one else would understand unless they were there, and we have deep conversations and silly minuscule ones alike when trudging through a long approach, sitting around a campfire making canned food, or staring at the stars from a sleeping bag. We explore the world with people and that creates a bond unlike any other.
Maybe what I write about climbing won’t sound that exciting. Maybe the things John Long, Greg Child, Jon Krauker, and the editors of climbing magazines write about wouldn’t be that interesting. Climbing is exciting, though, in every sense for those who do it. When you live it, breathe it, and love it, it is more than exciting. It’s a passion, a lifestyle, a constant craving, an obsession, an indescribably perfect blend of pain and pleasure, achievement and failure, and a strong sense of adventure. When climbers read writing about climbing, it feels exciting to them because it triggers all these moments and memories. It gets them psyched to try something new and get out there and climb. It might not be interesting writing to the world, but it is interesting to the right people. Since writing is an ultimate way to communicate and connect in a way that is deeper than surface level, that is the part that counts.
Therefore, my answer was and could only be, “It just is if you do it.”