Friday, May 27, 2011

Poetry minute

By the master, Mr. Prévert

Le chat et l'oiseau

un village écoute désolé
le chant d'un oiseau blessé
c'est le seul oiseau du village
et c'est le seul chat du village
qui l'a à moitié dévoré
et l'oiseau cesse de chanter
le chat cesse de ronronner
et de se lécher le museau
et le village fait à l'oiseau
de merveilleuses funérailles
et le chat qui est invité
marche derrière le petit cercueil de paille
où l'oiseau mort est allongé
porté par une petite fille
qui n'arrête pas de pleurer
si j'avais su que cela te fasse tant de peine
lui dit le chat
je l'aurais mangé tout entier
et puis je t'aurais raconté
que je l'avais vu s'envoler
s'envoler jusqu'au bout du monde
là-bas où c'est tellement loin
que jamais on n'en revient
tu aurais eu moins de chagrin
simplement de la tristesse et des regrets
il ne faut jamais faire les choses à moitié

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The fall

Picture by Jaume Clua

So many reflections lately.  But as Weick says clearly in his Sense-making book: "People discover what they think by looking at what they say, how they feel, and where they walked.  The talk makes sense of walking, which means those best able to walk the talk are the ones who actually talk the walking they find themselves doing most often, with most intensity, and with most satisfaction.  How can I know what I value until I see where I walk?"  I do the talk through writing, the walk through climbing, hoping that both substitute quite well.  And if not, oh well, I will remain my only faithful reader, with the added benefit of first-hand understanding.

The fall is a big part of climbing, maybe also of life.  A strong symbol, not only physical, it is also part of such English expressions as "fall from grace", "fall in love", "fall flat on your face", or "fall on deaf ears".  It is also a mythological word, deeply part of Christian, Jewish, but also Muslim and Hindu stories, told and retold to generations of bewildered, open-mouthed children or much more bored and indifferent adults.  In climbing at least, one prepares for it, one faces it, one screams, one bites one's lip, one falls.  The fall can be short, abrupt, and surprising, - like falling in love.  It can be long, painful, even infinite, - like falling from grace.

Falling is a pretty intriguing concept, action-based but oh so mental as well.  When i started climbing, i was unconscious enough for the fall not to matter much.  It was not a possibility deeply considered or analyzed, it was just a consequence, a price to pay for a mistake, something i knew was objectively there, but not close enough to evaluate, to experiment with, to make up my mind about.  Climbing long routes, high up in the mountains, the fall became a far-away reality, a myth, a symbol of something climbers do, but not something i assumed or struggled with personally.  It took some time, but falling came to me, and stayed with a vengeance, waging a total war against my established climbing personality, my self-esteem, my most dearest, - the desire to climb and surpass myself.

I remember clearly my first serious fall - leading the hardest pitch on Whitney-Gilman route on Cannon mountain in New Hampshire, after having done it already at least twice (once in February during a memorable winter ascent with my Russian friends), I clipped the piton, and started traversing.  I got pumped.  I tried to go back to the piton, tried to go directly up.  My arms started to give up.  My partner was too far to hear me.  At some point i just could not hold on anymore and let go.  I have no memory of the fall itself, only of the soft landing on top of my backpack, the surprise at being whole and not aching much anywhere, of the piton still sticking up there its ugly head and holding all my weight, proudly showing off its strength despite the years of corrosion and withstanding all possible weather affronts.  I did not get overly scared - but I haven't done many falls on gear since either.

I remember my other fall, THE FALL, in Callanques, same partner, different route.  Bolted all the way, how much better could it be?  I was too confident, I was that young bold alpinist from the joke, I urgently needed a lesson.  After an epic on the Eiger, an epic in Cham, the third w/end was to be in Callanques, it was time for me to really learn my lesson - not even in my beloved high mountains, but on warm white limestone that first lulled me back to confidence, just to strike better at the right target.  Strong as i felt, i did not manage to clip the bolt from the ledge.  I went for the move anyway, without clipping.  I failed, i fell.  Only a couple of meters, but a nasty, side-ways, painful affair, slashing my foot open and disabling me for the season.  Again, i do not remember the fall, only the strange amazement from looking at my bleeding foot slowly growing in size to a small pumpkin, the adrenaline going down, and the pain kicking in.  The long way up the remaining pitches with one foot and Alex pulling me up the rope, already in the dark, the light of the headlamp so far away, the painful last meters of the supposedly gorgeous ultimate 6a pitch, sitting and waiting for the rescue on top of Devenson in the cigales-filled night.

I thought this one did not matter either - but when i went back on the rock afterward, my brain switched.  It switched automatically and for real.  The switch was on for self-preservation.  The brain does not forget, that switch was genetically programmed and sealed for the years to come.  There was no more risk-taking.  Any fall with any kind of unhappy potential made me give up.  I gave up on 6bs, on 6cs, on 6as, I followed.  I cried.  I raged.  I dreamed of leading and could only go second.  I went higher, on harder routes, but I went second.  I subconsciously blamed my climbing partners, blamed Alex, blamed the world, those were some unhappy years of my climbing.  The reconstruction took some time.  It took a rather long time indeed.  Two years following, a year leading easy multipitch, another year of projecting with slings as long as one could tie together short of toproping.

Now I can almost face the fall - I still use many slings, but i can face the fall, i can count to three, close my eyes, do a stupid Sharma-cry, and let go.  Whatever happens - take it, assume it, believe in your partner, in the rope, the gri-gri.  And fall.  That is an integral part of sport climbing.  Falling is possible, falling can be accepted, never completely controlled.  Time, and a lot of effort.  Maybe, one day, my dream would be to do one of my projects without the slings, opening myself to the fall, taking the risk, enjoying only the move, the freedom, the air below, accepting the possibility of a fall, and moving on with it.  Maybe that is a good next step.  Maybe not.

I do not have recipes, but with a lot of effort, practice, and pushing your body, one can find the gift, the freedom, the courage to look the fall into its scary eyes and let go.  Some people will be able to do it much easier, some will go solo, and not care about gravity or anything else at all.  Most humans will be scared - scared as we are in so many moments of life, scared of failing, scared of climbing pumped, climbing at the limit, scared of giving it all, all the best there is in us, all the best we can give.  The good thing about adrenaline though is that while on the project, when knowing all the moves, the fear is transformed, it changes its colors, it switches its crazy face to a tone of white, not grey anymore.  It is about putting one foot in front of the other, of fighting the pump, of doing the mechanics of the moves - it is not only about the fall anymore.  Coming full circle, the fall becomes secondary, just a consequence of messing up, but not an ultimate punishment, not the scarecrow it used to be, not the unknown grey shadow, but a normal possibility that is accepted, faced, and assumed. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Klaas making Geyık bayıri rock

Latest awesome video by Klaas about the season in Turkey. You have it all, girls, a Western, a highline, snowboarding, hamam, a Sportiva commercial, drilling, and even a cause. Check it out...!

Raki on the rocks - Climbing in Turkey from klaas willems on Vimeo.

Go Klaas, you're the best, go Ruben (boys are growing up)!!! I wonder how Ruth is doing...

Monday, May 16, 2011

The climbing life

Climbing life is a choice - not an easy choice, but a clear choice it is. Some might call it an irresponsible life, a selfish life, a wasted life. All of that might be true. But it is also a life, and as life goes, it has its own ups and downs, its evolution and learning, maturing, illnesses, fears, depressions, sorrows, and joys. You talk about it, you do it, you plan it, you regret it, you assume it. Like any life, better or worse - I am none to judge. I think a life dedicated to something is already a more interesting life than just passing the hours, working, partying, sleeping, eating, and defecating.

I have tried to live my life setting goals, striving for something, at least giving myself the illusion of moving in a direction. Although less clear in my professional life, it has always been like that with my climbing. Longer routes, harder grades, more engagement, more exposure. When I first started climbing, leading what seemed to me then the "free" climbing life, passing months in Yosemite, in Squamish, going on expeditions to big mountains, appeared like a good goal, like something very hard but achievable. When looking at photos of treks in Nepas, when listening to stories every good old mountaineer is so good at telling the youngsters, I not only listened - i believed, i ruminated. It took me some years, some effort, a lot of convincing and family compromises, but I took the step towards my dream, I spent my time in Squamish, in Yosemite, in Cordiliera Blanca. I looked death into the eyes. Those eyes were not scary, they were cold and indifferent. That place was uncomfortable, humid, and inhumanly sad.  There was nothing beyond, it just all ended, even without a scream.  I did not like the image i saw in that mirror. I did not want to be that person - I was not fit enough, i was not strong enough, i was not ready to give it all up. I wanted down, I wanted to live, I had so much more to see and to do, I had enough energy to step by step go up, set up the tent another time, rub the feet against each other, spend 2 hours warming up the hands, suck on the snow, cooperate, and go down. I could move forever, for hours, i was going to survive.

Since, my climbing life changed. It took me a long time to realize the impact, the weight of the experience, the pain of the encounter, the fear of this lonely encounter I did not want to make again soon. Pressured to stop climbing by family, I decided against it, i took it easy, i moved again on the rock, in the sun, in warm rock shoes over easy vertical terrain. I took up the lead rope, i decided i wanted to climb, point. I did not want to be a super-hero, i did not want to be that mountain woman that died young, i did not even care about long routes anymore, i could live without snow-covered bell-shaped peaks that helped one look god into the eye.  But not without a goal. I learned all i needed could be had in just 20 or 30 meters of a vertical playground. The same challenge, the same need for metal will, for grinding teeth, for faith, planning, and determination.

Setting goals is an interesting challenge and it uses up our consciousness to the fullest, the capacity of the brain to focus, to understand, and to coordinate the body for the purpose at hand. In climbing this is enhanced because you set goals about your own body, your mental power, you control (or not) your fear, and you build your strength, step by step. Only you can do it, only you might fail.

After a year and a half of hard training I am consuming the fruits, floating up the old projects, figuring out the moves on the new ones. Climbing is a tough maiden - she requires months of dedication, years of prayer and offerings, and decades of practice. She gives little in return: a vague smile here, a sparkle of an eye there. She spirits away the imprudent soul, the inattentive by-stander; the fleeting relationships, the weak do not withstand her continuous test. Always mysterious, always on the verge of escaping, of letting go your confidence, of betraying your faith.

But then there is the whole process of learning - and i think this is something that surprised me and made me so addicted to sport climbing. Starting a project with hardly being able to move bolt to bolt, looking at the life-line, the rope, and wondering how ever will i be able to lead this - to not only doing all the moves free, but to also getting to the top unaided, floating into the sky unstopped by gravity, by the heavy body, by the obtuse mind. And then, with time, with study, with careful examination, with a lot of self-persuasion, some daring and confidence, moving up, progressing, from doggying the route to starting to make progress, to climbing with a couple of falls, to redpointing.

The process is always the same, the routes are different. Moves change, names differ, weather becomes capricious, belayers come and go. But the rock stays - the pleasure of moving up, of not fearing the draws, of weightlessly moving up and away, the total concentration of being here and now, of living the present moment. Of having invested time, committed oneself to this, and the body responding, doing incredible things one thought impossible, one believed made for gods, not mortals. The magic continues, the magic persists. Maybe it is a stupid magic, a surreal magic that will evaporate one day with the mist of Montserrat, that will leave me be, leave me empty and exhausted, unfulfilled and remorseful, that - one day, staring death into the eyes again.  Or maybe I will continue enjoying every day, every moment of the movement, staying young in spirit if not body, motivated as ever, the head above water.

People come, people go, they hurt you, they are unreliable, they are selfish, they are boring, they are cowards and liars. The rock stays. People come, people go, they surprise you, they teach you, they inspire you. The rock does not change, does not speak, but it does not betray you either.  It shows you who you are immediately, it makes you tell the truth quickly and honestly, sticks your nose into the mud of your reality, but also makes your day happy and worthwhile.  Let the people go, let them choose other lives, let them give up climbing, cheat on the mistress or the wife, leave the goddess in tears, let them give up their dreams and ambitions. Let them believe in prophets, duties, and other mirages. Me - I will go for a climb, I will go search for the mirror to look myself again into the eyes and see my worth, see my courage, see my fear, keeping balance on the edge of the void.

Friday, May 06, 2011

For Maluta

 We all wish you a lot of courage, Maluta...

Have no fear
For when I'm alone
I'll be better off than I was before

I've got this light
I'll be around to grow
Who I was before
I cannot recall

Long nights allow me to feel...
I'm falling...I am falling
The lights go out
Let me feel
I'm falling
I am falling safely to the ground

I'll take this soul that's inside me now
Like a brand new friend
I'll forever know

I've got this light
And the will to show
I will always be better than before

Long nights allow me to feel...
I'm falling...I am falling
The lights go out
Let me feel
I'm falling
I am falling safely to the ground