Saturday, November 08, 2008

Rock Climbing

I picked up rock climbing my freshman year in college. I got climbing shoes and a chalk bag for Christmas in 2000, and I had a blast climbing all sorts of different man-made routes in the old racquetball court. My Resident Assistant (RA) Jeff was a climbing enthusiast and he taught me the "Take Away" game. First person chooses a hold anywhere on the wall and that is the goal (usually somewhere relatively high on the wall). That person then climbs and touches the hold, then gets to take away one of the holds he used. The second person then climbs and touches the final hold without using the hole taken away by the first climber. The game gets confusing when the majority of the holds have been taken away, and you have to start making leaps at the final hold--fun though! The only problem I had is that Jeff was 6'6", so he could make huge leaps and bypass holds that I couldn't.

I did an anthropological study on the culture in the rock climbing wall area my junior year. The language, music and feel of the rock climbing wall was different from anywhere else on campus. "On Belay" "Belay On" "Climbing" "Climb On" "Dyno" and various grunts and screams were all common. There was a CD player in the climbing wall, and I heard a lot of different music, but usually folksy or reggae. When I was the first one in the room I would usually pop in "The Bends" by Radiohead or Pearl Jam's "Versus." Whenever I hear Radiohead, I always think back to rock climbing at UPS.

Encouragement from other climbers--strangers by any other association--was a strong draw for me to the sport. Other climbers are always willing to spot you or give advice if asked. I remember a number of times where I just couldn't figure out a particular problem and a more experienced climber would give me a suggestion on how to tackle whatever was giving me issues. Maybe leaning a little more to the right, or getting my left foot up on the ledge instead of my right foot.

I separated my shoulder playing ultimate frisbee my junior year at UPS. Ever since then, I haven't been able to pull myself up with my left arm, which put an end to my rock climbing. I messed around a little down in Tahoe on the big rocks by my house in the Tahoe National Forest, and did not feel any pain in my shoulder, but I haven't climbed at an actual rock climbing wall since college.

It turns out that one of my snowboarding buddies this winter likes to rock climb. We've exchanged emails about going for a climb one of these weekends, but we've never gotten around to it. She climbs at an indoor club in Everett, but she says it requires harnesses and costs $15 a trip, so I'm not too interested in climbing there. I prefer harness-free bouldering, which only takes you about 15ft up. Today there was a break in the week-long rain, so when I saw the sun I left her a voice mail and headed over to Marymoor Park's outdoor rock wall.

I was the only one at the wall, and the wood chips in the climbing area were still a bit damp from rain earlier in the morning. The rock wall at Marymoor looks a bit like the EMP in downtown Seattle, but more jaggedy and vertical. It is roughly 40ft high at its peak, not something I'm going to climb without a rope! I had a field day and climbed all around the base of the structures. There are overhangs, inward slopes, outward slopes, chimney chutes--it has got it all.

Once I was warmed up and remembered how to use my legs to climb instead of just relying on my arms, I started making little personal courses/goals. See if I can start on wall X and make it to wall Z. See if I can climb the length of the overhanging wall (not even close!).

I was reminded of a lot of things on my climb today. First, I love rock climbing. I've missed climbing over the years. Second, I suck at rock climbing. This is a bit unusual, because I usually don't love things I'm terrible at, but rock climbing is the exception. You need upper both upper and lower body strength for rock climbing, of which I have neither. In addition to strength, good strategy is key for climbing, and besides knowing I need to use my legs, I forgot all the little tricks I picked up climbing at UPS.

I listened to Radiohead on the way home, and remembered a big reason why I got into rock climbing in the first place was its solitary aspect. You can get a lot of thinking done while rock climbing. It isn't a team sport, and there is a very simple task: climb the wall. Other climbers can help you along the way, but they can't climb the wall for you. Also, you can climb the wall however you want, and the creativity in route creation and execution is where a lot of the fun comes in. What works for one person might not work for you, and that is alright.

I've had a few things bugging me this past week, and I think my time rock climbing helped me figure out exactly what it was that was bugging me and how to put an end to it.



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