I hate climbers.
I tell my friends this and they seem surprised. They ask me, “You hate climbers? But aren’t you a climber? You rock climb right? Doesn’t that make you a climber?”
Yes, I climb. And no, I’m not a fucking climber. Fuck those guys.
Ever talk with a climber? None of it ever makes sense. They’re full of slang and jargon and gear and I always feel like I need a dictionary to talk with them.
What the hell is a redpoint? How’s that different from an on-sight? Trad versus sport versus bouldering versus alpine? Mixed? What’s free-soloing? What about aid climbing? What’s the V scale? Or the Yosemite Decimal System? What’s an overhang? How about a dihedrals? Cracks? Slab? Liebacks? Stemming? Fist jams. Stacking. Highballs. Whippers. Decking. Jugs. Pinches. Underclings. Beta. Chossy. Sandbagged.
No clue? Don’t worry, once you figure out the vocabulary, you realize every friggin’ conversation is the same. All that climbers talk about is climbing.
Not a climber? Tough luck buddy. You’re not going to be able to hold a conversation.
“Man, I was totally pumped out on the roof, but then I got my foot over and heel hooked the shit out of it, and when I got over the overhang, there was this fat thank-god jug, so I grabbed it and mantled over and put in a cam and just hung there for a while. I didn’t think I was going to make it, but man, it was sweet.”
Or the route beta:
“It’s got a pretty awkward off-width start, but if you go to the right, you can just climb the slab and get back into a bomber hand crack.”
“It’s got great fist jams and takes pro pretty good, but then there’s a steep crux with a bouldery move near the top.”
And they’ll do this for hours. Back and forth. This climb, or that climb. It’s J-Tree or Yosemite or Tahquitz or the Buttermilks or Red Rocks or the Alabama Hills or wherever. They’ll rattle off climbs with names like White Lightning or Traitor Horn or Overhang Bypass. In areas like The Old Woman or The Blob or Intersection Rock. It’s like this for hour after hour, night after night. The same shit around the campfire.
Then, when they’re done talking about climbs, they start talking about gear. So much damn gear. Their cams, their nuts, harnesses, rope, crash pads. Bolt hangers, anchor chains, shoulder length slings, keylock noses, wire gates, ovals, HMS, and lockers. Reverso versus ATCs. Dyneema versus nylon. Tricams and hexes. A full rack of Bee Dee cams with doubles of certain sizes for this or that crack. How tri-cams are a pain in the ass to get out, especially after a fall. How dyneema doesn’t take a knot well, or what size cordage to use for a trad anchor. Or how this stopper doesn’t slot well because of the ridges, or how this cam has a better range, or whatever.
I hate that after you climb a bit, that gear talk actually becomes useful. Tricams really ARE a pain in the ass to get out after a climb. And #1 and #.75 BD C4’s really ARE nice to have doubles of.
Tricams are great!
I hate the legends. I hate looking at a guidebook and there’s a first ascent set by Chouinard or Robbins or Long or Bachar or some other name that I recognize and have no idea why I recognize it. I don’t know why I know who the Stonemasters are. I don’t know why I see those climbs and immediately want to climb them.
I hate that there are places like Salathe Wall, or Astroman, and that I know what they are. I hate that I’ll never be able to climb them. I hate that I know who Lynn Hill is. I hate that she’ll always be a better climber than me. Even when she’s 90.
I hate Alex Honnold. I hate that he gets on the cover of National Geographic. I hate that he climbs harder without a rope than I will ever climb with one. I hate that it kinda makes me want to try free-soloing. I hate that he, too, talks about being scared. Except he’s scared free-soloing up the face of Half Dome, and I’m scared on some 5.5 J-tree trad lead.
Me getting scared on a 5.5 lead in J-Tree.
I hate that he talks about trying to achieve and maintain certain mental flow states, like some sort of zen master. I hate that on certain climbs, I get glimpses into similar thoughts, only on a much, much lesser level.
I hate Chris Sharma. I hate that he’s the best damn climber in the world and makes it look so easy. I hate that he’s basically a laid-back pothead with superhuman climbing ability. I hate that I’m not a laid-back pothead with superhuman climbing ability. I hate that every climbing girl I know has a huge crush on him. Fuck that guy.
I hate being scared. I hate looking out across a slab traverse with no protection, knowing that if I slip, I’ll take a whipper fall into the rock. I hate looking out across that traverse and cursing it loudly. I hate doing all that and STILL stepping out onto the granite slab, looking the world like a polished piece of slick death, and somehow finding small chips for my feet to go on, and I gingerly place my feet, one at a time, until I look up and suddenly I’m across without any incident and I can slot in a nice nut placement into a convenient crack.
I hate the lead falls. You’re hanging there with fear building up in your chest, and lactic acid building up in your forearms and knowing, just knowing, that you can’t make this move and that you’re going to fall, and ah-shit you lose your grip and suddenly there’s nothing between you and the hard ground, but then you’re suddenly yanked to a stop by the rope gods and maybe your balls get pinched by your leg loops and everything hurts like a mutha-fucker, but you’re thanking whoever it was that invented kernmantle construction and dynamic rope stretch. Then your belayer asks you if you’re ok, and even if you just crapped your pants a little, you don’t want to seem scared, so you yell, “yeah, I’m good, just lower me a bit so I can get back on the climb.” When, really, all you want to do is get back on the ground and pack your shit and go home because that was terrifying, but for some stupid reason, you swing your dangling ass back onto the route and start working the problem again.
And you fall at the crux again, and maybe again, and maybe a few more times. And you curse yourself for picking a hard-as-hell sport and you curse the rock for being smoother than a baby’s ass, and the lack of holds, and the thin flakes that pass for toeholds, and your puny forearms.
Climbers are fearless thrill-seekers. Or completely controlled zen masters. Strong, lean muscles and the grace of countless climbs under their nylon harnesses. Long arms and long climbs and the inexorable progress upward on the rock without a hitch. Guys and girls like Chris Sharma or Lynn Hill, blonde beasts held to the face with iron pinches and smoothly slotted crack jamming fists. And laid-back post-climb beer drinkers, easy on the eyes and easy on the road.
Definitely not me, I who curse the rock out loud as I climb. Not the joyful silence of sheer confidence, but the thinly held-together cracking-up of my holding-my-shit-togetherness.
I hate looking at a long, curving crack and thinking to myself, ”You gotta be fucking kidding me. People climb this shit?” I hate that I stand there at the base and start racking gear to myself, as if I knew what the hell I was doing. Sure, I’ll take some cams, and some nuts, and some quickdraws and a few alpine draws. No, I don’t think I’ll need the tri-cams. I strap on my helmet, check my tie-in, tighten my leg loops (protect my balls). Then, to my partner: “Climbing.” And he answers, “Climb on.” I place my hand on the rock and step on. And I immediately wonder what the fuck I’m doing.
Slowly upward, upward, slotting in a piece here and there, wondering who the hell thought sticking little metal bits the size of my thumbnail constituted “protection.”
When I go climbing, I spend the entire time pretending. I’m lying to myself and to my friends. I lie to gravity. I tell all of them, yes, I know what I’m doing. I’m in control here. Yes, I am a climber, I can make it up this impossible pitch. I say shit like, “oh that was a beautiful climb.” That usually means I need to go home and change my underwear. Or the climber’s version of an admission of fear, “yeah, that was a little spicy.” As if airy exposure and hard moves were akin to a pinch of habanero spice in your hot sauce. Hot sauce might make my eyes water, but exposure makes me cry like a little bitch.
I’m not a climber because I’m scared. I’m scared all the time. I’m scared of falling. I’m scared of my pro ripping out. I’m scared of rockfall. I’m scared that something will happen and my rope will get cut. I’m scared of flailing on a hard section. I’m scared of looking stupid in front of my climbing partner.
My non-climbing friends (you know, normal, sane people) say things to me when I tell them that I climb. Like, “Oh, I could never rock climb. I’m afraid of heights.” And I think to myself, “are you kidding me? You think I’m NOT afraid of fucking heights?”
But, of course, I play the badass card and just shrug it off like it’s no big deal. I’ll reply with, “oh, you get used to it.” As if you really do. You just get really good at not looking down, at focusing on your moves, on not thinking that you’re dangling on some wall a couple hundred feet above jagged rocks and if your little 10mm rope were cut, you’d be dead, dead, dead.
I try to remind myself of Lynn Hill’s words: “It doesn’t matter how tall the mountain is, all that matters is how strong you are.”
But despite all the fears, all the good and rational reasons to be scared, I’m most scared of living a life where I didn’t try something amazing because I was too afraid. I’m scared of going to my safe grave in my safe bed after living a safe life and wondering if I should have taken more risks. If I should have pushed my fear down deep inside. If I should have tied that rethreaded figure-eight onto my harness and put my hands on a hopeful hold and stepped up to try something impossible. I’m scared that I would have never known that feeling of standing on top a tall tower of gorgeous granite with the sunset sky over J-Tree and looking down at something I ascended with nothing but a skinny shoestring rope and tired muscles and audacity.
On top of Bussonier (5.7) in J-Tree.
I’m scared that I would never had known what adrenaline and fear mixed with the euphoria of topping out on some pitch you never thought you’d be able to climb felt like. Like you were some sort of superman full of courage and undaunted strength and that you just did something that so many only dream of. That feeling of superiority over your non-climbing friends, lying at home in front of their TVs with their cats and their boring nine-to-five jobs could never hope to achieve. For a few brief moments, I am greatness.
But then, I get back to camp and hang out with my climbing friends and it’s just talk of route after route after route around the campfire. And I know I’m not a badass. I’m just a pretender. They swap stories about this crack or that slab or this face and it’s 5.11d or 5.12a or V7 and it’s back and forth like gaining the anchor and getting on lead for the next pitch. I come out and have a beer and sit with climbers and listen to them talk and try my best to throw some slang in there and hope that they can’t see through me, that they won’t recognize that I’m just a poser, a fake, a phony, that I’m talking like I climb, I’m just pretending.
I’m telling you man, I fucking hate climbers.
But, god damn, I wish I were a climber.
And seriously, fuck Chris Sharma. I hate that guy.