By: Jake Mansfield
No one is a perfect climber. In fact, it is the strive for perfection that makes climbing such a worthwhile sport. Knowing that there is always more work to do and harder routes to climb is what keeps many climbers coming back. It can be hard even for seasoned climbers to continue to push themselves to keep going, knowing that their hard work is “all in vein”. To those who don’t climb this can be a hard concept to grasp. Why continue to put time, money, and hard work toward a goal that simply cannot be achieved?
Yet for some reason we still do it. We still show up to the gym day after day, just to cram our feet into tiny (and expensive) shoes, get covered in chalk and sweat, and get shut down on the projects that we should have dialed in by now. We drive for hours and hike for miles to get to some cliff tucked away in the woods that no one you know has ever heard of. All of this and more, just to get your butt kicked by some rocks.
So, this brings us to the question of why rock climbing? What has caused this once cult activity to grow into an Olympic level sport? There must be something more to it to account for all of the hype.
For me, that ‘something’ is reaching goals that I have set. Whether that is a new grade that I want to break into, or a specific climb that I have designated as my project. Achieving those little check points throughout your training process not only feels good, but it can be absolutely addicting. Even if you are just getting into climbing, try to make some goals for yourself.
For many new climbers, the first 3 months or so are full of progress. Huge strides in terms of grades, endurance, and overall climbing knowledge give you huge confidence boosts to keep coming back to it. Even if you get shut down on something, you may be able to conquer it just a few days later, which makes it even better. Like I said, this part is addicting. Many climbers get hooked on this principle alone. Almost instant gratification while feeling like you are actually doing something!
The real challenge comes when that early period ends. Those goals become progressively harder to achieve. In climbing we call this a plateau. Those climbers who relied on pure strength for their first few grades find themselves in need of technique and footwork. Those who took the time to develop their technique first will start to find moves where they need more strength and endurance to draw from.
This stage of climbing can be incredibly frustrating. To go from tons of progress to very little almost overnight can be tough. From there on out, every advancement can be exponentially harder to earn. Many going months or years between any tangible improvement, when it used to be days or weeks when they first started. The ability to push through these gaps in visible progress is what separates true climbers from the pack. It can require dedicated training, focus, and most importantly, time.
Climbing can still stay fun during this time, but it all depends on your attitude. You will not learn too much by just climbing easy routes. We must push into harder environments, fall, learn, get back on, and fall again. All the while getting stronger and learning how to move more efficiently.
Many of the best climbers label themselves as obsessive people, and I absolutely think that is the kind of person it takes to be a good climber. To push through the frustration and let down of falling over and over again is not a skill that comes easily. Getting back on the same route that has shut you down time and time again to chip away at the beta a little more is where improvement is made. It is important to understand that every amazing climber you see had to go through the same lessons, take thousands of falls, and get lowered off of hundreds of climbs that they were not able to finish. These climbers were able to stick through their first training plateaus and the ones that came after.
If, after many months of climbing you are still asking yourself, why rock climbing?, it may be time to look at your approach. Look at what got you into it in the first place. It may have been the social environment, the adventure of climbing outside, or just the excitement that comes with trying something new and finding a whole new community that you didn’t know existed.
It is important to remember that we do not climb because it is easy. We climb because accomplishing things that we know are hard is extremely rewarding. That reward only grows with the time and effort that you put into it. If you are willing to stick to it, then you know exactly why you climb.