January 10, 2021

A year of rock climbing

I was in a lucky place to handle 2020. I stayed employed, I could work from home, I am relatively healthy and young. So when I think of my weekends as being hard and dark, because I was unable to see friends and do all the normal things that made me happy, and because I was at times obsessed with the news that contributed to a sense of doom, I also have to admit it was much, much worse for many people.

In any case, it was hard, and I was looking for new routines. By August, I had one: every weekend with any degree of nice weather I would spend rock climbing. A core group of my friends formed committed to this. We’d leave Boston by 8am, get to Rumney, New Hampshire by 10, and spend the entire day climbing, limited only by the darkness after sunset. Rumney is huge, with many cliffs to explore, and even at its busiest we could maintain plenty of distance from other groups.

Sport climbing, for me, is a good balance of relaxation and focused effort, and of risk and safety. A climb usually takes just a minute or two of preparation, five to ten minutes of exertion, and then you’re done, either switching to belay or, delightfully, finding a nice spot to rest against a tree or rock and watch the next climber. The goal is to complete a climb without falling or hanging at all on the rope (to “send”).

A difficult climb feels absolutely impossible at first. “No fucking way” is a common thought. It’s like asking you to swim across the Atlantic, etc: there is nothing in your body to let you do it. And then an interesting thing happens. You work at it, falling, failing, trying again, trying a different foothold, finding hidden imperfections in the rock, twisting your hips, fitting your fingers just so along a fold of schist, again and again, and movement by movement you ascend. You learn that, yes, you can make these movements with this impossible rock. What you find is that much of climbing is about understanding what you are capable of, and that what held you back more than anything else was that you just didn’t know.

Jolt, Rumney

Meanwhile, while you’re resting, you get to watch the peregrine falcons fly overhead. Sometimes they have something in their talons.

I am grateful to have found this sport. It is the perfect excuse to be outside, to be with friends, and to get out of the city and away from the endless news.