We all know that climbing grades are extremely subjective. A fellow climber brought the point up to me last weekend that stars (quality ratings) are just as subjective as the grade (difficulty rating). Indeed, I think this is very true. I’ve definitely been cursed and complained about 4 or 5 star routes / problems and raved about ones with one or no stars.

Part of that subjectivity may be the reason that you’re climbing in the first place. Allow me to present the following vignette:

[Phone call at 11:00 a.m.]

  • Hey Austin, how’s your day so far?
  • Great! I already hiked 3 miles and climbed for a few yours
  • Cool, so you got some exercise this morning already.

If you haven’t picked it up from reading this blog yet, climbing is far more than exercise for those who let themselves be moved by the stone. I could go into a whole rant about gym climbing vs. craggers, et al. I’ll leave that at this. Climbing gyms are wonderful, they give many of us a home, a family, or a place to train, and have reared some of the strongest climbers in the world. However, rock climbing requires… ya know… rocks.

On one of my first official dirtbag climbing days I was the only person on the mountain and I remember how liberating and wonderful it felt to think:

It doesn't matter if I climb V2 or V10, right now I own this place.

That said, I’m talking about the spirit of rock climbing and everything that comes with the adventure, exploration, punishment, liberation, and accomplishment that come with outdoor climbing that simply can not be replicated in any gym. With that in mind I’m less than impressed by the V10 climber who whips out his Nintendo DS between burns on a boulder and have a lot more respect for a V-meh climber who is at the crag every weekend and never utters one word about bunk weather, sandbagged routes, or climber-climb style conflicts.

If you’ve ever climbed in the southeast during any time that’s not winter or fall then you’re familiar with the summer swamp (e.g. wretched humidity). Fort those unenlightened, you’re not going to send your hardest project in late July at HP40 – though I suppose stranger things have happened.

At any rate, due to dirtbagging I’ve been cranking out mad volumes of crag trips – more like gym sessions. Once again my perspective on climbing has changed drastically. Of course, I still want to push and challenge myself and continue to improve. (Note: pushing oneself doesn’t always mean harder grade, maybe its more volume, a different style, or simply dredging through said summer swamp). It’s become hard for me to think in terms of ticking and training and almost “projecting.” It’s just climbing. I’m simply thankful to be out on the rocks and doing what I love every day or as nearly as my body will let me — though that is certainly not a privilege that was given freely. Maybe when you let something move you it simply becomes (and consumes) life. I’ll avoid the cliche lifestyle change (gag!) phrase for a reason: there is an explicit lack of style in what I’m talking about. This isn’t for show, or for headlines, or Facebook likes. This is life. It doesn’t give a damn about style. It had a beginning and will have an end, but for now it simply is.

There are only two things in 27 years of life that have brought me such fulfillment, freedom, and liberation. Interestingly enough, both BJJ and rock climbing can be contorted and warped into a “sport” that, at least it seems this way to me, bypasses the spirit and soul of those ways of being with oneself and interacting with the world. There are only a few things special enough in each person’s life that demand… nay, are freely given… enough of an investment of one’s spirit and commitment to beget an evolution of one’s entire relation to that thing. Sports don’t do that… else they wouldn’t be “sporting.” Challenges of mind, body, and spirit wrapped into an epic lifelong struggle (read “journey”) to persistently improve, or perhaps merely be change or continue forward, do. I’m forever grateful for those things.

Savagezen's Blog

A minimalist guide to my many projects.