Climbing kindly

Almost one year ago today I caught my finger in a pocket on a relatively easy climb at the climbing wall and it broke (the finger, not the hold).  Almost certainly the wheels had been in motion for a while leading up to that point, suggesting to me that a different approach to my climbing was calling.  And probably my life in general.

Breaking my finger was not the first random body malfunction I’d faced in the preceding few years.  And it’s not the last.  But perhaps it’s the first time I actually ‘listened’.  Because you only listen to your body when you’re prepared to hear what it’s saying.  I spent approximately 22 of my 25 climbing years charging at it: climbing everywhere, whenever, whatever, pushing hard most of the time.  I climbed plenty of things that energised me and enjoyed but I did wonder from time to time whether I was missing something.

Heather under Cyrn Las, North Wales

Heather under Cyrn Las, North Wales

 
 

Perhaps it was my finger, perhaps it was any number of things that led up to that point, whatever it was, around January of this year I started to make a different set of decisions – applying to my life in general, but climbing seemed the obvious test of my new approach.  What would happen if every climbing decision served my greater good, no one else, pushing my ego aside and listening carefully to my very own desires and needs?  In fact when I started out on this I’m not entirely sure I was going that deep but now I realise this whole approach has led to possibly the most transformative year of my life.

My first decision was to cancel a climbing holiday back in February: poor weather in Spain wasn’t going to suit a finger that had only started climbing 3 days before. My next decision was to go on holiday on my own a few weeks later. The last time I did that was some 15 years before. Once I got over my ego whining about how few friends I had (obviously not true) and how by now I should have things a bit better sorted (I’m taking a break from planning), I ended up with quite the most glorious week in Margalef Spain. I spent hours lying flat on the dirt with my eyes closed feeling the sun on my cheeks, did lots of climbing and made new friends.

Since then I’ve got into new habits leading up to each climbing day: what are my energy levels (do I want to push my body or let it go gently), do I want to climb in a 2 or a 3 (being in a 3 always allows for a doze, a sit down and in fact the option to not do anything at all), do I want to onsight, redpoint, trad climb, boulder or in fact do NOTHING at all? I allowed myself every option in every moment.

Stanage: I used to take my paints out all the time… until I stopped. So easy to combine with bouldering. It’s not like they take up much space in my bag

Stanage: I used to take my paints out all the time… until I stopped. So easy to combine with bouldering. It’s not like they take up much space in my bag

It hasn’t been an easy transition. Mostly my ego struggled. When I arrived in Spain on that first holiday, standing up to the onslaught (that’s what it felt like), following my announcement I might rest on day 3, from my friends saying ‘what... you can’t surely still be tired’ (err yes I was), was hard. Being comfortable to say to a friend ‘yes HVS is all I want to do today’ and ‘I’ll do the 1 hour uphill walk in tomorrow, but not today’ or ‘I have no climbing aims at the moment’ (explaining this mini project of mine is hard to condense) have all been entirely new concepts for me. Because in the past, often my ego won and I rarely said no.

But overall what has come out of this approach is quite astonishing. When I have climbed this year, my body has moved with an entirely new energy. Even friends have noticed a difference. I’m accessing a new mental approach. My body moves confidently and intuitively. Because when I step onto a climb, every decision I’ve made up to that point means there is no other place I’d rather be (even in the drizzle, on 1 star routes, but then again too in the sun high up on a wonderful mountain route in Wales with my oldest friends). Climbing from that mindset is something else: the accumulation of a 100 micro decisions, individually dismissible, but together powerful. I’ve learnt how nourishing it actually is being truly kind to yourself, I’m making friends with me the human being that has up and down energy levels and the relationship I have with climbing has become way more connected. I'm sure it's this final aspect which is what is so evident when I step onto the rock.

(written Dec 2018)