With Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson climbing the Dawn Wall, many climbers and possibly some non-climbers, are feeling very inspired. We know that rush we get when we push a grade higher, when we complete a project that has taken us days, months, or even years to complete, or even when we do a move our bodies struggled with. We love climbing because we are constantly pushing our personal limits and inspiring ourselves with how much we are capable of. We try hard because we are passionate about what we do, because we enjoy the struggle and difficult journey, as much as the reward of accomplishing something in the end. Climbing captivates us and becomes a part of who we are and how we identify ourselves. We can celebrate someone pushing past things that haven’t been done, because on our own smaller scale, we do know what that feels like. We also know that it opens doors and realms of possibilities for us.
That being said, it makes sense why it is so frustrating to see how misunderstood the sport becomes as media tries to cover this huge event, and random people feel the need to shout their views despite how misinformed we know them to be. To a public eye with no context to the sport of climbing, we see a lot of comments about this being extremist, highly dangerous, all about ego inflation, and probably the most annoying of all- about getting money. These claims make us cringe because they make us feel misunderstood, annoyed, and like one of our greatest loves is being slandered. For the most part, we just want others to be able to see what we see. We wish others knew how inspiring and profound this is.
Rock climbing feels truly unique to us and like a bond that none other can compare to. However, everyone has passions for different things, and often those passions go just as highly misunderstood to others. I can feel the frustration over how the world is trying to break down something that I wish would be left untouched. Understanding all rock climbing means to me, the passion, the beauty, the self exploration, the determination, etc. It is so hard to see something that should be inspirational being called stupid, dangerous, ignorant, etc by people who don’t know better or have authority to make that claim. If I’m being honest though, this isn’t unique to rock climbing. Just a few weeks ago, I was incredibly frustrated by a story I wrote being completely misunderstood because it is dark humor and that seems to be a really difficult genre for those who don’t love it to grasp. I write to connect with people. I love reading stories that make me feel like someone else gets what I get, and that I have a deep connection with someone, even if I never meet them. Writing for that reason, it can be heartbreaking when your message and ideas are completely missed. When you write something that you feel is so powerful, and people break it down to disturbingly simplistic and just inaccurate ideas. It almost feels like your speaking in a language no one gets, and you feel like you have something so important to tell them but you just can’t because your words are nonsense to them.
Rock climbing and writing are my biggest passions, so that’s what I can relate this feeling to. Think about other passions you have though. All of them suffer this conflict in some way or another. You might be saying well some little hobby like knitting or baking or drawing fail to compare to the majesty of rock climbing, but these non-climbers are doing the reverse. Growing up my mom’s biggest passion was gardening. Gardening, when you really care about it at least, can require an immense amount of yard work. It was difficult for me to grasp how someone could enjoy doing yard work. Many times I thought she was crazy for being so upset that we couldn’t see why helping was a big deal to her. Now, I can get it. There is so much struggling and work involved in rock climbing. You fall a lot, you fail a lot, you get hurt sometimes, and you have a lot of bad days. There is a lot of pure work with little fun to get to those breathtaking, yelling to the world I’m so happy moments. It’s totally worth it when it’s something you love.
It would be much easier if the world could make these little links and have empathy for how powerful something like the Dawn Wall is for those who live and breath rock climbing. It would be awesome if they asked the right people, the right questions to try to understand instead of making assumptions and writing things off. For example, the vast amount of definitions that seem to have popped up for what free climbing means. Why not just ask and genuinely try to educate yourself. If you don’t care enough to do that, why do you care enough to leave a criticizing comment?
At the same time, those who are climbers should try to take comfort in the fact that it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks. We’ve found something we enjoy, something that motivates us, and something that enriches our lives. Everything is really most important on the personal level. While it might be nice for our sport to get recognition, it is okay for these things to be recognized by those it means something too. Everything out there, whether it be movies, music, sports, art, writing, etc, will have people who recognize the magnificence of it, and people who just don’t get it. All we can do is try to have respect for the fact that everyone has their own things, and we live in a place where we are all allowed to pursue our own things to the fullest. The whole world might not understand the Dawn Wall project and what it means to the climbing world, but that’s okay. Those climbers aren’t doing it for the whole world. They are doing it because it’s what drives them. It’s what they love and what they want to accomplish. They are enjoying the journey and it probably has significance for each of them individually that we won’t know and don’t need to. The fact that they have a decent sized community to share with, it is awesome enough.
One of the best parts of life is finding other people who get what you get, and can see what you can. It doesn’t have to be everyone.