At the moment, my husband and I are working on a new edition of the Blue Mountains Rock Climbing Guidebook. It’s a fascinating project, drilling down into the details of over 3,000 routes. That’s more than ever, and the growing number reflects the climbing community’s obsession with route development. As someone who is happy to climb existing routes, rather than establish them, this isn’t something I can explain. But then, can I even explain why I climb?
I suppose I’m obsessed, driven compulsively by the prime lines that capture my imagination and won’t let me sleep at night. But then, why am I obsessed? Is it the adrenaline? Is it that fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants feeling? Am I reckless and fancy-free? Does the risk play into it? Perhaps it’s the ambitious and competitive streak I possess? So many unanswered questions, questions which I usually forget exist.
IN PURSUIT OF AN ANSWER
To figure out why, I dug up some of my old notebooks and discovered the following words:
“The reason I am so passionate about climbing is because it pushes me to my physical and mental limit. But it’s the way that it does this that is the attraction. Each climb is unique with its own secret puzzle and different set of holds, requiring a different set of sequences from the climber to master, to navigate their way up the rock. I am captivated by the problem-solving aspect of climbing, particularly with harder routes, the more involved the process the more satisfying the outcome.”
I have no idea when I wrote this nor for what reason. But, obviously, this wasn’t the first time I’d thought about this.
Perhaps it’s not possible to open up this can of worms without also opening up the question of why we do anything. Anyone could realistically ask themselves why – not just me as a climber. Why become a nurse? Why become a mechanic? Why become a chef? Why become a lawyer?
But then, perhaps I’m over-complicating it and the answer is simple. Do we simply gravitate towards the experiences that are aligned with our natural abilities and personality traits?
PEERING INTO THE PAST
Thirty years ago, I was a gymnast chasing the Olympic dream. I was pursuing perfection, but I gave up on that ideal when I became OTT with the conscientiousness trait, turning in on myself and lacking extroversion.
Gymnastics comes with a strict governance on what is correct and what is not. Whereas, climbing – whilst still maintaining the degree of physical challenge – encourages lateral thinking and creativity. In terms of personality, I’m very open to experience, so I thrive in this situation or environment.
The famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a groundbreaking book called Flow, in which he explained that a state of ‘flow’ is essential to happiness.
This refers to a state of mind which occurs when the challenge or task at hand is perfectly matched to your ability and skill level. If the task is too easy then you become bored, if the task is too hard you become anxious and may find yourself in danger. When the level is just right you become fully absorbed in the challenge; you lose track of time and self-consciousness.
This feeling is exactly what I experience when I’m climbing, say in the middle of onsighting a hard route or having a redpoint burn on my latest project. These moments of flow are so elusive, but they’re incredibly satisfying when they occur.
Back to the original question of why I climb. Upon reflection, I think the state of ‘flow’ that climbing brings me has a lot to do with it. But there are a few other factors as well.
Climbing has given me a way of connecting with nature, and as I spend more and more time in the incredible places climbing takes me, I increasingly value this part of it.
Climbing also fulfils my need for physical expression. At university, I studied industrial design, lured in by the promise that the profession required imagination, technical capability and a keen awareness of new possibilities. After following this path for several years, rock climbing literally fell into my lap; I was given a free trial pass to an indoor climbing gym. After trying it out, I realised I had been neglecting the one element that really made me tick, the need for physical expression. So, I took a long hard look at myself and reset my compass, changing the course of my life forever.
Basically, climbing is the one activity that seems tailor-made to suit my personality. Whether climbing is the same for you, or you have another niche, or are in fact still looking for it, all the best for 2019. Whatever is driving you, the possibilities are infinite.