I’m not a very good climber, but I seem to have falling down to a fine art.
I’m on my way up from the ocean depths, 240 meters to be exact. After 18 days working at depth, it takes ten days to reach the surface (for decompression) , ten days to get back to fresh air. To put that into perspective: it takes 3 days to go around the moon. Anybody interested should look up Saturation Diving on Wiki.
You might also find the answers to the questions I get asked most frequently, how deep do you dive, is it dangerous, do you weld underwater, what animals do you see down there and how do you eat? Anyways blah blah blah… I digress so easily, the brain is a bit fuzzy.
A topic that has always fascinated me, is fear.
Something strange seems to happen to me whilst climbing, I’ll explain as best I can.
The other day I was climbing an easy country route Lucifer (16) with Hilton Davies and Guy Paterson Jones (this young guy seems unflappable, surely one of the future trad young guns to watch). It was my turn to lead and after a few tricky moves I knew I couldn’t be on route anymore (as I seem to have a habit of doing). I had this slow creeping dread as my brain started to realize I might not be able to reverse the moves. There was no gear and my brain starts an inner dialogue repeatedly telling me how dangerous this is getting.
I get up to a bush which for the second following seems reasonable, but to my mind, my loud chattering mind, it looks like a something I could yank out by hand. The climb traverses around the corner out of sight.
Does it get easier or harder, or worse still, unclimbable for my limited abilities? I complain for what must be ages to Hilton and Guy, I decide to be safer and try reverse the moves.
I’m terrified, it’s too hard, I’m going to take a whipper onto a stupid bush. I don’t think I’ll die if the bush holds, but shit, I’m gonna get hurt, but I don’t think I’ll die. Keep it together Dark Horse you fool!
Then suddenly my body decides its pushing on, My brain is putting on a real serious tone, “do realize you might get hurt here, stop please! Stop it implores.“ My body climbs on as if it has now taken over, it is in charge. My brain realizes, shit, shit, shit, its no longer in charge, so it resigns itself to the inevitable and it shuts up. Ah, peace at last, no thoughts! Just living! Living in the now! It’s why I love climbing!
Breathe, breathe deep, just relax, shake out (for those that know me this includes loads of chalking up) and look for your foot placements. Every move becomes deliberate and delicate. I get around the corner, legs spread, and I inch my fingers blindly along. I find a hold. Relief! However the relief is short lived as I still can’t find any gear.
Hilton shouts up encouragement telling me to keep cool and look for gear. The latter advice sounding a tad urgent! I am now in the death zone. I know that sounds ridiculous as we are not talking Everest here, but rather my own death zone where a fall could be fatal.
I know it, but I shut the thought out before it takes root. Finally… meters later I find a bomber piece, I’m alive, the emotions flood my body. I feel a tremendous sense of relief and joy. I feel so alive!
The seconds follow (and they find the climbing easy going) but… then I had this epiphany, it’s what makes our sport so great. I also surf and it’s very much the same. It does not matter what your ability is, how fearful you get or how you handle that fear. What makes it so great is pushing your own boundaries, testing your own limits and ultimately learning something about yourself.
I watched a movie called ‘Chasing Mavericks‘, a true story about a 16 year old ‘Jay Moriarity’ who surfs seriously big waves, a true inspiration.
I highly recommend it.
“Live like Jay”