Why do we rock climb? Hollywood has definitely assisted in providing exaggerated and inaccurate portrayals to influence us to climb. Perhaps it was the super badass portrayal of climbing in the beginning of Mission Impossible II. Perhaps it was how Sylvester Stallone fought terrorists armed with machine guns and helicopters in Cliffhanger. Perhaps it was Jason Bourne showing us that climbing skills are only necessary when escaping the American Embassy in Bourne Ultimatum. Perhaps it was the overly dramatic opening scene of Vertical Limit where Chris O’Donnell has to watch his dad cut the rope to fall to his death. All of these movies did their fair share of false propaganda – death is around the corner at every moment, astronomical upper body strength is a must, and explosions are the normal on the wall.
So what drives us? We all have our own reasons – being one with nature, the feeling of pumped forearms, showing others how much of a badass you are, meeting new people, meeting girls specifically, the feeling of accomplishment upon the completion of a route, blah blah blah. As for me, I find it best to explain in terms of Pokémon, puzzles, and Captain America.
Being in the generation born in the late 80s and early 90s, I think it is safe to say that you didn’t have a childhood if you didn’t play Pokémon Red or Blue. (If you didn’t play Pokémon, replace the following analogies with any other RPG game, i.e. Final Fantasy) It was our dream as Pokémon masters to grow up and travel the globe and be the best. (And real Pokémon masters spelled Pokémon with that “é” and memorized how to type it – but for the rest of this post, I’m going to replace Pokémon with ‘dudes’ because it is easier to type) What made the game so addicting? Your dudes fought to gain experience points to eventually level up. Such an exhilarating feeling it is of advancing to that next level. Every few levels, your dudes learned new techniques to add to their arsenal. It was this easy-to-see progression that made it so addicting. After advancing a few levels, you could go back to places you had previously been before and fight those wild dudes that gave you so much trouble when your dudes were weak – you easily destroy the them because of how much you progressed. Oh if life was more like this. The good news is – this defines rock climbing.
In rock climbing, this is how easy our progress is measured. How awesome is that? What other sport can you say the same for? If you play a sport for a while, you ask yourself at some point, “Man, if only I could play against myself from X years ago…” Ok you can’t really do that in climbing either. But in those sports, you feel the progress but there is no way to accurately gauge it. You feel as if you have gotten a lot better, but as others are getting better around you it is harder to gauge that progress.
As easy as it is to see your Pokémon level up, rock climbing is all the same due to the ingenious grading system. Take bouldering for example. Most noobs start off at V0 or V1 – after gaining some experience, you advance to V2s then on to V3s and so on. So as you advance to the next level, the routes you couldn’t do previously are significantly easier. Yeah we don’t have a bar displaying how many experience points we have, but we know for sure once we are at that next level. I remember the early days of my V3 plateau- months climbing later at Stone Summit and now at V6s, those once impossible V3s are now mere warmups. Progress couldn’t be clearer!
As much as climbing is physically intensive, it is just as demanding mentally. Being a math major, problem solving comes naturally. You’d be surprised of how many math professors and engineers who love to rock climb. But it isn’t math problems I find joy in solving – it is all the other useless puzzles that aren’t necessary for life (but maybe for airplane rides). Logic puzzles. Sudoku puzzles. Each problem is different. Each solution is different. If you get stuck, you have to try something different. When you hear a good logic puzzle or riddle, we share it with someone else (like the guy who killed himself by hanging himself in a barn standing on a block of ice; the midget in the elevator with the umbrella) and pass it on, right? Unfortunately, Sudoku puzzles definitely don’t share the same fate. When you finish, its so addicting you want to do another one. We are all familiar with the satisfaction of finishing a puzzle.
The same goes for rock climbing. No two problems are the same. When projecting a route, we see what works and what doesn’t as we assemble the solution piece by piece. Each problem has a different solution but there are multiple solutions per problem. When we are on a good problem or complete one, we recommend it to others. Upon completion, that “Yes!” or “Finally!” feeling kicks in, then onward to the next problem. It is this satisfaction that makes climbing that keeps climbers coming back for more.
Ok so most of you people have seen Captain America. Remember that super cheesy scene where the German scientist dude is like, “Why someone weak? Because a weak man knows the value of strength, the value of power…“
All cheesiness aside, this is actually meaningful for me. We have all witnessed huge, jacked guys giving their go at climbing. It is safe to say, 100% of the time, that they will suck their first day. Knowing nothing about technique and thinking it is all about pullups, they will be too tired to climb in about 10 minutes. Being a scrawny, short 5’4”-5’5” climber, I quickly learned that climbing is not about brute strength but utilizing your entire body to conserve the maximum amount of energy. Why do girls advance faster in technique? Because they understand this faster than guys who can already do pullups. Starting off as a weaker climber with good technique, I progressed much faster than the strong climbers with mediocre technique. Why? “Because a weak man knows the value of strength, the value of power…”
The satisfaction of crystal clear progression, the thrill of the puzzle, and knowing the value of my strength. This is why I climb. Why do you climb?