No one is ever going to ask me to describe my climbing style in a single word, but if they did, it would be “serviceable.” As with most activities I take on, I am a profoundly mediocre rock climber.
This also goes for skiing, which I’ve been doing for something like a quarter-century. Despite skiing many hundreds of days, I am still a “Well, I can get down just about anything, but it might not be pretty” skier. After nearly a decade, I am an extremely intermediate mountain biker. I’ve been distance running since I was a freshman in high school, yet here I remain, the slowest marathoner you know.
As for climbing: if you are feeling patient, I can follow or top-rope most things up to a modest 5.10, provided the grade isn’t too sandbagged. I’d rather not lead anything much harder than a 5.8, maybe 5.9 in a pinch. If it’s sport climbing, I want a stick clip and generous bolting; if we’re talking trad, I want bomber gear every six feet or so, and if we’re climbing ice I’d rather not lead it, period—I’ll be waiting at the bar with a hot toddy, thank you very much.
And this is when I’m climbing strong.
I am most assuredly not climbing strong right now. We let our membership at the rock gym lapse last spring, and I’ve been content to do other things reasonably-but-not-particularly-well in the intervening 10 months. I cragged outside with friends a handful of times last summer and fall, but mostly I biked and ran and hiked and skied and generally stayed solidly on the ground.
Now that I’ve finally gotten the hang of being my own boss (ha!), I decided I might as well set some new climbing goals and start getting my ass to the gym to train for them.
As with most things, climbing fitness disappears almost instantly and seemingly takes forever to regain, so my first few visits to the gym were patently miserable. I used the “Oh, I’m just getting back into it!” excuse to climb 5.6s and 7s for much longer than was strictly necessary, and now, a month later, I’m finally remembering what it feels like to climb reasonably well.
The beauty of starting over is that it’s a chance to let go of expectations. I’m not mad at myself when I fall twice on an easy 5.10; I’m just delighted to have finished it, period. It feels good to be pumped. I’m remembering not just how to climb, but how to fall, how to train, how to take a rest day every now and again. The bad habits I so often fall into are months into the future.
I’m never going to be a world-class climber, or even a 5.12 climber. I’m not being self-deprecating; I think if I were willing to devote more time and energy to training and also eat fewer carbs, I could probably eke my way up an occasional 5.12. But I’m not particularly interested in doing those things, and a variety of circumstances will likely always prevent me from getting Very Serious About Climbing. I am very okay with that.
For now, though, I’m taking time to enjoy the feeling of moving on rock (er, for the rest of the winter, mostly on plastic) and getting stronger. Pretty soon I might even be able to do a single pull-up.