Why do we climb? I suspect that for more than a few of us in this tribe, both question and answer run straight through the very core of our existence. It at once defines us and confounds us. We climb because we have to, need to, want to. A life without is an utterly alien concept.
Oh sure, there are the “easy” reasons that one could rattle off if pressed upon by an outsider, a non-climber – the challenge, the beauty, the solitude, the meditation, the satisfaction, the problem solving, the remoteness, the partnerships, and so forth. But upon reciting the litany, we’re left feeling fradulent and frustrated. We know there are deeper reasons but they are fleeting and ephemeral and difficult to capture in word or thought. We’ve all experienced that moment of gestalt, the ah ha! when for but an instant, your mind can snapshot that rush, that flood of emotions washing over your corporeal self and you recognize that that is why you climb.
But like a will o' the wisp, it’s soon gone – you can only see it out the corner of your eye, can’t coax it off the tip of your tongue. And so we mumble something about it being there and stand there mutely embarassed that we can’t express why we are who we are or why we do what we do.
My apologies for presuming to speak for the tribe. We are myriad in our reasons, our motivations, yea our selves – for that is all we are, a collection of selves – that there’s no way a single junior tribeman, lost and confused in his own thoughts, could accurately capture the feeling of his kinsmen, not in a single post like this anyhow.
Why then, do I climb? Certainly not for the feeling of a dull knife slowly twisting back and forth in my lower intestine right now. Certainly not for the feeling of jangly nerves, everything on edge, teeth gritted, and metallic tang in the back of my mouth.
Dangling a few hundred feet away from the safety of the earth, clinging to the north face of Hallett on a line that Bob Culp and Tex Bossier opened up in 1961, contemplating three ridiculously small bits of metal and a bit of nylon while thunder booms and the snow rains down, I’m scared. Really scared.
I’m tying figure eights on the brake hand side of the rope as Whitney climbs. I wonder if the lightning will hurt and if I’ll feel intensely excruciating pain before I die, or if I’ll be lucky and everything will just go black. I want to tell Whit to give my regards to my friends and my apologies to my enemies, but refrain.
The demons in my head are legion. Self-doubt is permeating. Have I fucked up again?
Moreso than anything else, I really just want to live. I want to be somewhere else, anywhere else at any price – just ask and I’ll pay. I feel like I’m scrabbling desperately at the fabric of life clinging for purchase while being inexorably pulled away by an evilly black force.
Later – on the summit – it doesn’t let up. My hair crackles and my testicles feel like they’re in the back of my throat. Big bolts are splitting the sky, and we can manage to count to about five before the CRACK concusses us. We look desperately about for a bit of nylon or a cairn that would announce the location of the rap anchors. Anything to get off the high point and away from the terrors in the sky.
Later yet – in the descent gully – the anaconda’s coils loosen. My jaw unclenches and I only notice this because the lack of pressure and tension in my skull is surprising. My gut has untwisted and my diaphragm works normally again.
So why then, do I climb? The best I can muster is it’s what I was given to work with. Humans need to express themselves, to assert their existences, to pinch their own arms once in a while and wake up from the dream-state of complacency. Some of us paint, others sculpt, others make music, and still others write. We’ve all been given different gifts. We have different tools and differing ways of expressing our creativity. It’s innate – we get it for free by virtue of being human. We want to create, need to create, have to create. A life without is an utterly alien concept.
My expression then, my assertion of humanness, is climbing. The flavor of the climb, its timbre is my medium. As with the artist who chooses to work in oil or charcoal or watercolor, so do I boulder or sport clip or venture into the alpine. As the artist swooshes with big broad strokes or painstakingly details, so do I jam a crack or dance up a face. And as the artist sits and waits for true inspiration to strike, so do I dream of one day realizing my full creative potential.
The bliss of creation places you nearer your god and maker, for there is where you are truly in his image. The created creating.
I climb to create. I climb to become a better person. Simply, I climb.