Is it funny that I prefer facing someone trying to roundhouse kick me in the head than go climbing in a gym? Yes? No? I respect climbers and am fascinated by what they do, but I have always thought it was not for me.
It was for Markus though. He has climbed before when he lived in another city working for the UN, and he suggested we should try a top-rope course in a nearby climbing gym.
Where should I begin?
We showed up for a two-day course with six other people who had previous climbing or bouldering experience. Great.
Markus brought his gear and I go on climbing shoes, carabiner, and harness borrowed from the gym. The first thing I noticed was that a big part of climbing is focused on turning you into a mountain goat – those tight shoes, wow!
But to give you the short story of my first time climbing experience, I did not turn into a mountain goat. The long story is below, narrated with the lessons I learned from gym climbing as a beginner. Bruises not included.
When it’s intimidating, it’s more important to try.
I felt like an ant standing at the foot of these climbing walls. I thought it was a big ask for my body to climb given that my pull-up strength is zero to none, my shoulder is just recovered from injury, and it is safe to say Markus opens all the jars at home.
But these walls were not made for staring, aren’t they? My thoughts suggest I cannot climb it, but I have to try for conclusive evidence so I can say with even more confidence that I cannot do it.
One hold at a time I went up and was pleasantly surprised that I can actually do it. Sure, I was only climbing grade 4 walls but I was on top of the wall!
We should not believe our thoughts just like that. They are not always real. When we put them to the test, we may discover fun things about ourselves that we would otherwise miss out on. Sometimes, we are so much more than our heads trick us to believe.
Anything can be easier when broken into simpler parts.
Perspective matters. These walls are high, at least for a person like me with zero climbing experience. There is also the fact that I do not really dream of going higher, literally and figuratively.
But that does not matter a lot if I can only focus on one hold at a time. I put my left hand here and it is easy. My right hand goes here and it is easy. Left foot steps here and it is easy. Place right foot here and it is easy.
If I think about the entirety of the wall, I would not start climbing. If in the middle I think about how high I am and how much more is left to climb, I would panic. But if I focus on what is in front of me, always just one thing at a time, then it is easier to manage and continue climbing.
My best guess is this works for whatever else we do in life.
Nothing is one-sided.
I did not think I can ever go climbing because my upper body strength is suspect, but turns out, climbing is a whole body sport. I quickly realized I can rely on my legs and hips, and that conserved my energy and protected my weaker upper body. It made climbing more technical since I cannot just muscle my way through and that made it more fun.
I suppose, in anything, there is always a way for us to apply our strengths to counter our weaknesses. It cannot be all bad when we are able to use the entirety of our toolbox. We just have to try and figure what works with what.
When you’re lost in the middle, focus on how to get out of there, not on how it feels.
Did I mention I was climbing for the first time on my period? The harness was not a joy and I did not feel great overall. On some walls, almost always around three quarters of the way, my hands would sweat profusely and my brain would entertain the fun idea of losing grip and falling.
Of course, I would feel the onset of stress but stop it at the door. I pause, take a deep breath, and check where my hands and feet are. I look at the holds around me and see what could be next.
Managing my panic up there means focusing on how to keep going and not allowing my feelings to takeover. I know the wall ends at some point. It is just a matter of finding one easy hold and I can keep going.
This mental part of climbing delighted me actually. Good awareness exercise. It is not an easy sport for me on all accounts, but it offers the right amount of challenge to bring something better out of me.
Markus is very encouraging in this way. He empowers me to come out of my comfort zone and offers perspective that always helps me grow.
I suppose the only question now is: Will I go climbing again?
Only joking. Yes, it was fun.
Have you tried anything new lately?