I’m sitting in the Squamish Public Library watching storm clouds wisp around the Stawamus Chief. My wife and I wound our way through shrouds of mountain fog and negotiated the spray of wet and busy highways to get here today, and it is still raining. While I’d rather be sinking my fingers into Squamish’s renowned cracks for the first time, the gloomy weather demands that we stay indoors, hibernating until the sun appears and dries things up.

I’m not sure what it is about gray skies that compel me to pause and take stock of where I’ve been. I know I bore easily, and reflection is a convenient way to continue “doing something” when what I really want to be doing – rock climbing, obviously – isn’t going to happen. Let’s start with the numbers:

Days since we left Boulder: 11

Miles driven: 1843

Podcasts listened to: at least 10

Pitches climbed: 32

Days exclusively dedicated to climbing: 4

Days of rain: 5

Numbers of stuck stoppers: 2

Bags of chips and/or pretzels eaten: 5

Domestic arguments over utterly benign issues: at least 11 (once a day is a good estimate)

Domestic arguments resolved: at least 11

Friends and family visited: 10

A storm blowing over Grand Teton National Park

I don’t normally reflect with numbers, but they’re the only coherent way for me to describe the last 11 days. To be frank, our time has felt pretty incoherent, being fraught with distraction that has led to exhaustion, so maybe the rainy weather is not such a bad thing. We spent a few days in Lander, WY at the International Climbers Festival, then got rained off a route in Death Canyon in the Tetons. Then we drove to Index, Washington to get deeply humbled by humidity, heat, and the toughest sandbags I’ve ever climbed. Then we spent three days visiting friends and family in Seattle and spent a rainy night in the North Cascades National Park.

Our travels thus far have been infused with concerns beyond the climbing world. Podcasts about the state of the economy or the psychology of sports provoke longer highway conversations. News of the tragedy from near our home in Colorado has pulled our thoughts away from our present surroundings. Possibly the most unsettling part of our recent travels has been the time we spent with my brother-in-law and his family. Ryan, my brother-in-law, is a Baptist pastor who recently adopted an albino orphan from China and is currently housing a mother and her daughter with a troubled past. This is on top of caring for his three other children and managing to be a central figure in his local community. Ryan and I have vastly differing worldviews, yet I deeply admire the simple dedication and remarkable willingness he has to helping people who need it. Our time together was occupied with discussions of faith, altruism, and the nature of human relationships. Ultimately, we have an “agree to disagree” operating pattern, but I couldn’t help to reflect on level of indulgence present in my current climbing myopia.

All of these concerns – social issues, public tragedies, and the negotiations of family relationships – are all “real stuff,” not the fluff of the climbing obsession. This stuff matters, both societally and personally, yet it’s hard not to see it as a distraction from what is ostensibly a “climbing trip.” I suppose it’s normal to try to organize one’s life, to distill it, to simplify. It’s equally normal to feel discomfort when events and ideas that are incongruous disrupt our organized life and force us to think and act differently.

Trying to stay focused in Death Canyon, Grand Teton National Park.

Just as when we travel to a new cliff with an expectation of what how hard 5.11 is and are brutally awakened to a different reality (go to Index, and you will almost certainly have this experience), the unforeseen, incongruous, and new will often challenge us to question the choices and pursuits that have gotten us to where we are. There’s a lot of comfort for me in the myopia of the climbing life, and intrusions undoubtedly disrupt that comfort. There’s an incoherence of experience when my current focus is heavily indulgent and self-oriented (like a climbing trip) and the greater concerns of the “real world” work their way through the cracks. I find myself looking for a way to justify the indulgence, which is risky business at best. Right now, the best I can do is remember that just because two experiences occur at the same time doesn’t necessarily mean they are part of the same continuum. In other words, if I go climbing, it doesn’t mean I’m complicit in what is wrong with the world. Likewise, if I don’t go climbing, injustice and wrong (“evil,” in my brother-in-law’s words) will still exist.

This is by no means a satisfactory defense of the climbing myopia. If nothing else, these existential questions reverberate in the hollow spaces that are a reality in the climbing life. Deep down, I think we all know that climbing isn’t enough on it’s own, but the myopia is hard to let go.

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