Over the Easter holiday (a four-day weekend, here in Canada), my partner and I headed up to Quadra Island, one of the Discovery Islands wedged between central Vancouver Island and the mainland. Quadra Island is my favourite of the Gulf and Discovery Islands: it embodies the true west coast island style, with funky hippie houses surrounded by rambling gardens, and goats wedged in between stunning mansions and vacation homes. It also provides an incredible range of excellent outdoor pursuits, particularly stunning, accessible sport climbing, a peaceful paddling route, breathtaking camping. Early April being a variable weather month, we took our canoe and paddling gear, climbing gear, and camping gear, planing to follow the whim of the weather.
Our ultimate goal, however, was to get on the rock and do some climbing during our time there. We climb in the gym regularly, and getting outside where there are hundreds of bolted lines is an absolute treasure. We missed a few weather windows (wet rock, and high winds make for a particularly nightmarish climb), and we finally found an opening on our last day there. We eagerly packed up our gear and headed to the crags.
It didn’t go so well from there. While we were unpacking at the crag-side, we had the sudden realization that our gear was almost 10 years old. Nylon has a shelf life, so the webbing we used for anchor building would soon expire. It was still in good condition, but it would not be prudent to trust it’s structural integrity. We found some alternative rope for building the anchor. My partner climbed an easy route; however, not having climbed lead or outdoors in almost two years, he was very uncomfortable on the exposed route and hesitant to climb another line. My baby toe, broken a few weeks ago, was not willing to wedge into my tight climbing shoes and was brutally painful. I couldn’t even start the route we had selected, even though it was an easy one, well below the grade I usually climb.
Needless to say, we were very frustrated and discouraged.
I started climbing with great enthusiasm many years ago, when I started dating my partner, who is a climber. I had always thought climbing looked fun and exciting, but had never really given it a try. We climbed together, with dreams of living the climber life: save enough money that we could quit our jobs, buy a van, and go on a year-long road trip around North America, climbing to our hearts content. It seemed like a very reasonable plan because he was an excellent climber, and I had a huge amount of experience hiking, camping, and traveling.
I ran into a problem: I wasn’t that good, and I wasn’t improving. We climbed inside, at a climbing gym geared toward elite climbers, so all the difficult routes received a lot of attention and re-setting, whereas the easier routes were maybe reset once a year, so I was usually stuck with one mediocre route to climb over and over again. I have always been an active person; however, the sports at which I excelled relied on strong legs and hips, rather than excellent grip strength, powerful shoulders, and an outrageously strong core. It turns out that rugby, hammer throwing, and, to a lesser extent, boxing provide poor cross training for one looking to lightly float up a wall. I am rather stubborn, so I kept climbing and climbing, improving in technique but not difficulty level. I did get discouraged, and would often take months (or the better part of a year) off, too irritated and disappointed to climb. It wasn’t fun: it was stressful and discouraging.
We ended up changing gyms, and started climbing at a new gym in town that was geared toward the average and beginner climber. The gym paid attention to it’s easier lines, doing frequent re-sets and providing many options at the easier grades. Suddenly I was improving! It was amazing! I was getting better, climbing harder grades, and actually enjoying myself. All the technique work I had done over the years desperately trying to improve at the last gym paid off, and I cruised along.
Then, when I was poised to make the jump from top rope climbing to lead climbing, I stopped climbing all together. I can’t even remember why.
I’ve been back at the gym climbing again for the last few months after taking the better part of a year off, working out with a new climbing partner (my original climbing partner is still around, and he joins us sometimes, but his interests have taken him elsewhere). My technique is wildly improved from my early days; however, I am not nearly in as good of shape as I was last year so I am relegated to climbing easy grades. I am so discouraged and disappointed to have slid all the way back to the bottom of the mountain, as it were. I am also incensed that I work hard with the goal in mind to climb outside and, when presented with the opportunity, I fail miserably. I am not accustomed to failing at physical endeavours, nor do I anticipate flailing at any outdoor pursuit.
Yet here we are.
Clearly what I have been doing isn’t working, otherwise I would feel like I have made a modicum of progress in these last four years. Instead I am caught in a cycle of training until I am at the cusp of leaping into lead climbing, and then stopping climbing for many months, until all my strength and endurance is lost and I have to start all over again. I am never strong enough to enjoy long days climbing outside, so any ambitions of traveling to climb are completely pointless. I am reminded of a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson:
“If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.”
So what haven’t I done? I have never formally ‘trained’ at climbing, nor have I had any professional, experienced coaching. I have never sought out other climbers to join in a community, but rather have shied away from all communal activities. I have also never lost significant weight (I deeply resent any sport that demands weight loss; however, there is a lot to be said for having an improved weight-to-strength ratio. ). I guess it’s time to try something new.
There is a coached training group at my local climbing gym that meets twice a week. Joining them would give me the opportunity to improve under the guidance of a knowledgable trainer (rather than wild guessing based on knowledge transferred from other sports), and eliminate my excuses for skipping key parts of a climbing work out (Core workout, I’m looking at you!). In addition to formal training, loosing some weight would benefit me as well. I have no ambition to loose significant weight (nor do I feel that it would be healthy for me), yet I could stand to loose ten pounds without affecting my strength, and that would be ten less pounds I need to carry up the wall with me.
I’m far too stubborn to give up, but sensible enough to take a step back and re-evaluate my approach. Let’s see where this goes!