The first step, the first word, the first kiss. The first trails you’ve ridden on your bike.
The first beating that you deserved. The first love.
The first stay in hospital without your mum.
The first time driving in an empty parking lot or field.
The first time doing the deed. The first paycheck.
The first breakup. The birth of your first child. The first glimpse of the truth…
Such milestones line our lives. Not only everyday life, though, but the second life as well. The climbing life. Climbing is not just a hobby that you do for two hours two times a week. It’s a lifestyle, drug, obsession, diagnosable disease.
Until now, you only knew it from videos and photos. Maybe some of your friends told you about it. And suddenly there’s only you and the rock. A sort of friendly fight. The higher you get from the ground, the more breathless you get. Holds get slippery and you feel like you might fall. Fortunately, there’s your experienced and trustworthy friend belaying you. And once you get all the way to the top, sweating, you lay down on your back and you feel so happy. You made it.
“Hey and how should I get down?”
Well you thread both ropes through this device, step over the edge of the overhanging rock and simply belay down to the ground.”
“What did you say? I should step where?”
“Yeah, and then you rappel down.”
And here we go again. You feel small again. Just when it felt so great sitting up there. The first time rappeling is a drama. After thousand times, it’s just routine.
“Wait, is there some sharp end of it?”
“Of course, the one the leader ties into. It’s designed to resemble a blade, that’s why we call it sharp end.”
When the rope hangs from above, you can rest any time you want – you just sit onto the rope and if your climbing partner hasn’t spilled any acid from the car battery on it, you are safe. But I can bet that since you first tried climbing, you’ve wondered how it feels to lead. Your good old friend Psychology steps into the game. She will accompany you on all your climbing trips. Whenever. Wherever. Sometimes she will become a good adviser and other times she won’t let you make one of the easiest moves on the route a few meters above the last protection. But she is always just your friend – it’s still up to you what you do.
You put a piece of protection into the rock. It seems good. At least… until you’re about to fall onto it. Then next thing you know, you’re gripped on tiny holds and you’ve already got a case of Elvis leg and you suddenly change your mind about the quality of the protection. Suddenly you expect that if you fall, the quickdraw will surely unclip, the cam will definitely pop out, even the most solid bolts seem to be so fragile, there must a mistake in your knot, the rope must be coreshot…Suddenly, you could name twenty more reasons why you will certainly take a grounder. Back to the roots. And then it comes. You either slip or get incredibly pumped. As you fly you don’t even have enough time to see your life and there you are, hanging just a few meters lower than you were before. The rope remained intact, the bolt stayed in its place, and twenty more possible mechanisms of failure remained only hypothetical. Soon, you will find that falling is nothing fatal. It will even become a part of your climbing routine. It will seem a bit like reading a newspaper or drinking your morning coffee.
Once you make a move that you cannot downclimb, high above the ground, in a part of the route without protection, you enter the zone of no return. When you’re high in the mountains and the weather goes bad. In such cases, you can try to negotiate with your fate, try to bribe it with everything you have. You can try but the cards are already laid out. You must give it your best. Your first fight for life. You didn’t have to enter the game. You wanted to.
Anxiety and Fear
Fate, please give me the wings of Pegasus.
Or else I turn into dust.
My foot slipped.
Now I fall.
Down to hell.
The first route that wouldn’t let you sleep calmly for several years. Then, for the first time, you climb as precisely as in an advertisement for elegant movement and redpoint the route – in one go, without falling. Another example, you come back once again to attempt a bold route that, for a few years, you’ve been trying to gain enough courage to try it again. You tie in, breathe deeply, touch the first holds so carefully as you touched your first love. Your heart pounds in the same way too. Then, you realize your power and wake your inner demon that was sleeping up to this moment. You climb the route with ease.
When you’re with the most beautiful climber you ever met, with everything that includes, suddenly, you forget about all your plans for a proper rest before tomorrow’s attempt on a project. The inner demon never sleeps.
Let’s say that America was discovered by Columbus. I can almost see it – first they thought that it’s a cloud and then found out that it’s a whole continent. First ascents are shrowded in the magic of discovering. You find a line that no one has climbed before. The first move is a step into the unknown. The route you choose and how you protect it provide the rock with a new story, a new soul. So be careful, the routes without a soul are like people without a soul.
Partner preparing for one of his first ascents: “How would you like it today? Should we make something nice, protected or something rated X?”
Good thing that you noted all the possible descent routes from the summit and you’ve even copied them into your iPhone and iPad. Your literary education now provides you at least with an arsenal of swear words with which you can address the meteorologists when the weather goes sideways. Not even your calculations that you will get to the top in eight hours seem to be much of a help. You got almost… to the a third of the way up. Your first unplanned bivouac.
Sleeping bag? No such luck.
Something to drink? No.
Mobile signal? Missing.
Hunger and cold? Finally something we have.
The first friend you’ve lost. You will miss him.
Sadly, this is a part of climbing as well. But if you’ve lived a good life, you will surely get to climbing heaven where is nothing but good friction, crags are not overcrowded, the rock is always dry, the ground is made of bouldering pads, beer pours from the taps, and all the bivouacs are equipped with a thermos full of mulled wine and a gorgeous climbing partner.
Now turn off your computer. And go. Outside.
There is surely a “First” of some sort waiting for you.
Loves the pulse of metropolis. Amazed by technical progress… Watches the latest fashion. Never misses any cultural event or social intercourse. Reads newspaper daily, follows financial market. (smiling)
“Climbing is not about the grades and life is not about the money.”
He loves to write about inspiring people.
Addicted to situations when he does not care about the time – in the mountains or sandstone crags.