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.

5 comments:

Aleix said...

"clap, clap, clap" - sound of an applause.
No words Julia, impressive text. Congratulations!

Pau said...

we can say it more strong but not more clear ....

uasunflower said...

@Aleix - merci!

@Pau - some things are clear, others are less, good that at least my writing is clear =)

Pau said...

@uasunflower yes, but i can undertand a lot you point of view, and i thing this post reflex and explain a irrefutable truth .... congrats.

Mark McGowan said...

from the heart...