I own this tank top. A couple sizes too big. My favorite thing really. Wear it everywhere: parkour, climbing, beers out. It is soft, purple, and carries words in yellow font that read: “just go climb”.
@justgoclimb was their tag, which has now evolved to be a seasonal identity they assume when not shooting epic mountainous elopements.
- It took a little over four years for that yellow ink to seep into my bloodstream.
I started climbing in what? 2010? 2012? Some may say I took an unconventional approach to it by diving head first. Day one at a climbing gym chases my conspirator and I into the changing room looking up youtube videos on how to tie a figure-eight so we can pass the belay test without paying the cash-money for the class. Day two, and I hand in my eager application for a part-time front desk position at the same gym. Day three, and I obliviously climb a “lead-only” route on top rope and do a full 360 head up-down-up when I realize the extent of my ignorance a bit too late and past the top rope anchors.
I’ve enrolled myself into a training class, pestered more experienced co-workers for tips and workouts, exchanged home-baked goods for permissions to set a boulder problem, and on nights that I was closing, locked the doors, blasted blues and climbed until I couldn’t tell a difference between tired, hungry, and happy. I was completely exhausted and couldn’t wait for the next time.
Then came the outside, the lead climbing, the injuries from overuse, the coming back, the competitions, more injuries, the climbing friends and romantic partners. The one thing that was consistent throughout all of it – chasing the Grade. Allow me to translate. For someone who was raised with consistently insistent message of not only “you are not good enough” but “you will also never be good enough”, the Grade seemed like the Redemption. In the end, rock climbing turned out to be a convenient framework to prove my worth (hell yeah first V5, come to mama!) and keep it familiarly not good enough (yeah, but did you send a single one outside?).
I could look forward to my next Grade and tell myself: when I climb the n-grade, I’ll be good enough, I’ll be worthy. Climbing folk will nod with respect, ex-boyfriends will be awash with overwhelming regret, and my opinion in the climbing circles will be an undefeated sumo champion. Rrright. It happened exactly like that. Not.
Suffice it to say, the only undefeated one was the good ole’ message. If anything, it grew stronger.
Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed the process. Just so we are clear, the process of chasing the grade. I have met great people, learned new skills, and explored, within and without. In addition to my own training I became an instructor and a coach: classes, individual training sessions, youth competitive team, all of which inextricably helps develop new layers of depth to one’s practice. But.
But. There was something missing.
The missing part started to come into focus once I’ve withdrawn from competition, both as a participant and a coach, stopped route-setting, hung around people who seemed to have the most fun climbing, traveled for a few months, and climbed once or twice on the whole trip.
Fastforward to now. 2019.
Shagg Crag in Maine. Beautiful piney approach, overhung granite, a couple of 5.10’s (further on I’ll skip the [5.]), 11’s, and the rest are all magnificent looking 12’s. Few people, which creates a relaxed vibe. An unimaginable luxury at a project-dense place like Rumney (which I also love).
We warm up on a short but powerful route that I somehow retained in my memory from four years prior. Take our time to teach a friend to re-tie at the no-quick-links anchor in order to clean. Move on to the Great Escape (10c) with a secure but heady start. We build our pump, and salivate over the neighboring Ginseng (12b). Jonathan hops on it and flashes the whole thing on the first go – first 12b outside for him! I still remember that I only lasted for the first 2 clips on this route when I tried it for the first time four years ago, so I decide to follow on top rope, unclipping as I go. Biiiiig mistake. It turned out to be too much work to get back into the wall every time I fell, because of the overhang, and I came down after the third clip.
Then it happened. I was looking at this gorgeous climb that I wanted to climb so badly, because the movement on it was just incredible: heel hooks, horizontal movement, dynamic throws to crosses and gastons, fine footwork, all of the core. And the only thing that stood between me climbing it and not climbing it on lead, was the Grade, a Goliath looming over me. In conventional grade speak, I’m an 11a/b climber, at best (if we are talking about clean sends). I have no business on a 12 (screw that message, by the way). I hate taking my belayer’s time. What am I trying to prove?
The answer had nothing to do with proving anything. The answer was: I just wanted to go climb that beaut of a climb. As simple and pure as that. At that point I didn’t care if it was a 9 or a 13. It was great and it was calling me. I answered the call.
I went clip by clip. I fell a couple of times. Far less than I expected. I stuck all but one, of the scariest, burliest, “definitely falling on this one” moves on it. Far more than I expected. The climb stopped being a Grade and became a series of Really Fun Moves that I would do one at a time. One hold at a time, one foot placement at a time, one breath at a time.
The time warped. It slowed to a crawl when I went for a deadpoint and sped back up as soon as I stuck it and realized that the hold wasn’t as bad as I had expected, but also not as good as my pumped forearm would wish. The time would go double speed when I’d try to clip a particularly stubborn clip, and pause right after take off for the full extension leap of faith. When I clipped the anchors, it was exhilarating. What a fun climb!
Yeah, it’s also nice to feel that I had lead a 12b to the top. No need to pretend that I didn’t feel proud. However, the difference this time was that the Grade was a nice side bonus.
The main dish was to Just Go Climb.
Of course, I am not unique with the “not good enough” part, it is a message that a lot of us carry (based on my experience with other humans) and deal with in various ways, consciously and not. Of course, it would take more than one climb to re-write and re-wire. Of course, it was a whole lot more than that climb that led me to where I am now, including all those experiences throughout the “grade-chasing” period of my life. And yes, I am still gladly using the grade system to track training progress. What I am not using it for, is to track how good and worthy I am.
Ginseng Route will remain a landmark in my journey that illustrated my arrival to a certain point, where I was able to put joy and exploration in the drivers seat, and a contrived construct took an honorable back passenger place.
Now, Just Go Climb already 😉