May 17, 2013
What are you?

I’ve gotten to the point where I can comfortably call myself a climber without an uneasy guilt restraining my tongue and a nervous urge to check my surroundings swiveling my head. Gone is the fear that I’m not a “real climber”, not good enough to identify with a lifestyle, or not dedicated enough to be part of a clique. This change in identity is not from an improvement in ability or reaffirmation of dedication, but a much more simple idea.

Did I climb? Of course! Was I a climber? Well, uh, maybe? The distinction between “climbing” and being “a climber” was a big deal to me. It might have seemed terribly pedantic, but it mattered a great deal. Sure, I could crush 5.11 top-ropes in the gym, but was I out there climbing trad in Squamish? I bouldered 3 times a week, but was I living out of a van in Bishop? I knew all about dirtbags, sport crags and first ascents, but had I ever cleaned and bolted a route, established a boulder or set a problem in the gym? I loved climbing, sure, but I wasn’t a climber. Real climbers on-sighted 5.12 and played mandolins on big walls in Greenland. Real climbers lived out of truck-beds and dropped out of college and scavenged for pizza scraps because they blew the last of their cash on a set of cams and a case of PBR. I wasn’t a real climber, those guys were legends, those ladies lived the life, living breathing existing to climb and only climb.

You’ve probably caught on. I’m calling nonsense on the idea of needing to represent the pinnacle of a thing in order to identify with that thing. I’m calling nonsense on the notion that in order to be good at something, you need to dedicate every ounce of yourself to it. I’m calling nonsense on the theft of an identity by a cliché. No one would ever truly be “a climber” by the definition I had imposed.

In reality, “a climber” is anyone who loves every moment they’re on the rock, someone who dreams of holds, rehearses sequences and longs for granite plastic sandstone limestone, anything that will put them up against gravity, their weakness, their strength and themselves. A climber is anyone who tops out on a boulder and whoop whoop whoops in joy! A climber is anyone who can’t describe the feeling of cinching up their figure-eight before their last red-point attempt of the night. A climber is anyone who swears at the rock as they fall and then steps back, cocks a grin, and laughs at the ridiculousness of the sport. A climber is anyone who gets more stoked from belaying a friend on their first outdoor climb than they do from sending their project in the gym. A climber is anyone who loves the unmistakable feeling of chalk on their hands, who leaves white handprints on their pants and whose palms steam up when they walk past those tiny ornamental boulders on their neighbor’s lawn.

A climber is anyone who loves climbing. There is no idealized, unattainable definition of a climber, no requirement for dropping out of school or spending half the year in Patagonia. Climbers are climbers because they love climbing. Climbers love climbing because of the delicate interplay between simplicity and complexity, of aesthetics, of finesse and brutality, and the absurd beauty stemming from the melodramatic relationship of fear and joy, defeat and conquest, improvement and change. Climbers climb not because they’re climbers, but because they’re tumbling through the chaotic rapids of fear, of pride, of disorganization, of loss, of success, of love, of stress, of ego, of insecurity, of learning, of forgetting, of work, of play – in short, of life. There is no one “climber” beyond the urge to climb that burns in every one of us.

I know I’m a student because I go to school, I know I’m a writer because I write things that I want others to read, and I know I’m a climber because I love to climb. Next time someone asks you what you do, or who you are, don’t hesitate. Don’t question whether you’re good enough, hardcore enough, or if you’ve done that thing for ten years or ten months. Tell them what you love. That’s all you really need to know. If you love climbing then you’re a climber, if you love dancing you’re a dancer, photography a photographer, sailing a sailor, writing a writer. Continue loving that thing, doing that thing, practicing that thing, sharing that thing and it will become a beautiful and integral part of who you are. And yes, I’m a climber, a great climber. Chances are, you are too. 

12:04am  |   URL:
Filed under: climbing bouldering 
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    I think I could get behind that.