Catching Up With A Rocky Past

This is a blog post by Floh member, Manuj. Learn more at www.floh.in (a network that connects singles in real life)

Climbing_Dhauj_5Dec2015_Stuck

It’s cold. I am short of sleep, tired, hungry, stuck in a precarious spot, no way up to be seen and going down isn’t an option. I did this to myself, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I love rock climbing!

The climb thus far was straightforward, but the rest of the wall was rather plain with no holds for my hands or feet. I’ve been stuck here a while. I have tried and failed three different approaches. My arms are now pumped full of lactic acid, and I’m breathing too heavily. This is when the panic sets in. It’s so cold.

December had been pleasant so far. Either the weather took a turn this morning, or maybe this is what the real world outside of Delhi’s pollution cover is. I couldn’t be more glad that we woke up at 5 am to drive to Dhauj, a safe distance from it. I hang perched twenty metres above the ground on a steep wall, as I desperately searched for a way to climb the remaining five metres of it. No dice. I have to find a spot to rest. I’m not going to be able to climb this wall without a break. I’m disappointed. I have been training for this.

Climbing is an old love, which got left behind after being a big part of my undergrad years, my fear of heights notwithstanding. So I couldn’t believe my luck when the first Floh singles event after I joined was Rock Climbing at Delhi Rock! It was a fun event for singles, I and made a couple of friends who also had some climbing history. We started climbing regularly, made other friends in Delhi’s climbing community, and a few months later I was climbing in Dhauj again — after 15 years. Floh reunited me with an old love.

The training is paying off. I feel in control. I still can’t look down though. My fear of heights sets in, especially when I’m stuck on a route. I can only look up. But no reason to be afraid I tell myself: there is a brand new safety rope tied to my harness, with a trusty figure-of-8 knot. I was the first one to climb that route, but I wasn’t going to let myself be the first one to test if the anchor would hold. First ascents(1) are almost as tricky as first dates.

And then my “climbing alter ego” kicks in. It helps me realise this conversation I’m having with myself is a sure sign doubt and fear have crept in. When I’m climbing as I should, I’m just executing and not talking with myself. My mind is focused on the next combination of moves. I was wrong, I wasn’t in control.

This is exactly what Arno Ilgner talks about in The Rock Warrior’s Way. Thankfully, he also talks about his method to overcome fear and keep moving. I’ve been reading it, and practicing it in the climbing gym. I’ve been training my mind — to respect my limits, to re-assess my approach, to change rapidly if need be, to keep fear at bay, and above all to have confidence in my ability. Time to test it in the field.

As a first step, I try to slow down my breathing. Next, I cycle through my routine to talk myself out of a panic. I remind myself to have faith in my training, and push myself to get going. I restart my search for a resting spot and almost immediately find a place to kneebar(2). It was less than two feet away but I couldn’t see it earlier in my state of mild panic. It was right there but invisible to me. I can’t believe it. My legs now bear all my weight and the arms immediately feel better, and the breathing is completely relaxed. I pause to soak in the beautiful morning and view of the hills around. I am completely relaxed. It is not so cold anymore.

As beautiful as the morning with single suddenly appears to be, there’s still the little matter of the remaining wall to be solved. I’ve failed with three lines I tried but I won’t let anyone help me with the beta(3). I have to solve the problem. That’s the way to climb. It is as much a test of your mind, as it is of your body. I notice a line about eight to ten feet to my left. I have to traverse left, up a crack in the wall and then traverse further left. I would be too far left of the drop line of the safety rope. If I fall, I would swing like a pendulum and possibly bang into the wall, repeatedly. Perfect. We didn’t come here to climb up a ladder. Time to get going…

So why climb? It seems pointless to anyone who doesn’t. But it’s a sport like no other. It’s simple and pure. Climbing is simply just that: climbing. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else. We climb because we must. We climb “because it’s there”, in George Mallory’s words.

To paraphrase another climber: Imagine having the skills, motivation and tenacity to overcome any obstacle to achieve what you want to. Imagine knowing that this would take performing to your utmost for a long time, and feeling confident you could do it. Imagine being able to evaluate the risks of failure, knowing that they are dire and yet go on as though you knew for sure you would succeed. Imagine feeling unstoppable. Climbing gives me this.(4)

Give me a holler if you’re in Delhi and want to check it out. I’ll be happy to show you the ropes. Climb on!

Footnotes
(1) First ascent is usually used for routes/ walls/ mountains of serious difficulty and of some importance. In the bigger scheme of things, this was a piddly little route that was rather easy except for this part. More importantly, it refers to a wall being climbed for the first time ever. Here, I mean it as being the first one of the group to climb it that day.
(2) Kneebar is a rock climbing maneuver in which a leg “hold” is created by cramming your knee/ lower thigh up under or against some blocky, cracky, or roofy feature in opposition to your foot. A solid kneebar might let you take off both hands and de-pump, even on overhanging stone; however, it also requires calf flexion and core tension.
(3) Beta is climbing jargon that designates information about a climb. In rock climbing this may include information about a climb’s difficulty, crux, style, length, quality of rock, ease to protect, required equipment, and specific information about hand or foot holds.
(4) I cannot now recall who I’m paraphrasing, or where they said/ wrote it. So I’m unable to give them credit for it here.