Chapter 65: The Parable of the Rock Climber

You know how it is. You’re halfway up leading a single pitch 5.9 friction climb and you just ran into its nasty 5.10a crux. It’s a simple overhang, if you were two feet higher you could just pop your foot on your handhold and you’d be on easy street, 5.5 to the top. But there doesn’t seem to be a hold where you need it, and your feet can only find little wisps of rock and small patches of roughness. You lean back hoping to notice the bucket that your hands can’t find, or anything that closely resembles solid footing.

“You’re only making it worse. Just move your feet up and trust it. You gotta keep moving.”

Your belayer is right. The longer you sit there, the more tired you get. The more tired you are, the harder it is to do anything. You fall, because you’re exhausted.

“Lower me, I’m too pumped to get it. Fuck.”

Climbing is about rhythm and balance more than anything. No one is strong enough to hang on the rock forever, and the key is to just keep moving, to keep inching up the face. Everything always looks better when you’re an inch higher. If you sit in a comfortable spot for too long you stop seeing the available handholds, and you get very picky about what you’ll actually trust to hold your weight.

In reality, all of the holds will hold your weight. Rock is strong, way stronger than you’ll ever be. A flimsy little flake might be just enough to swing you up to the biggest bucket of your life, but unless you trust it and make the move you’ll never know.

Momentum is mental. You might be in a tough spot with limited options, but you have to keep climbing. Otherwise you’ll just get tired and fall.

“If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go.”
– George Leigh Mallory

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