Climb for Joy.
Because what other reason is there?
The other day I went climbing with my girlfriend’s 14 year old sister. She laughed at how her forearms felt at the end of the day – like a couple of useless two by fours. It brought me back to my own beginnings in a climbing gym in Northern Virginia, 15 years ago. I’d climb so long, and so hard, that I would need to use the backs of my knuckles to open my car door at the end of a session. I couldn’t close my fingers enough to pry the handle open in a reasonable fashion. I was that worked.
Over 15 years, some of the novelty of climbing has worn off. So climbing has changed a lot for me. And, in my lesser moments, so have my reasons for climbing. My initial motivation for the sport was pure joy; I don’t know how else to describe it. It was the best, most exciting, most compelling thing I had ever done.
And for many of you, I think this will still ring true. But I bet some of you are winking a knowing eye, thinking about how your own reasons for climbing have changed. Maybe you do it to send harder grades, maybe you do it to be better than another climber (or to be better than your current self), maybe you do it because you are thinking about making it in the climbing industry. Maybe you think if you solo that route you can update your instagram feed; or if you send that proj you can do a facebook blast; or if you get that particular hangboard sequence you can write a blogpost about it. #this, #that. Raise your hand if you’ve never done a climb for these reasons – go ahead.
Perhaps this is more revealing than anything else. Maybe I am alone in this. But I suspect that is not the case. And I’m not suggesting that this is the only reason I climb, or you climb, or anyone climbs, all the time. But I bet if you take a step back and think about it, you’ll find all kinds of motivations creeping into your reasons for climbing that you were only (if at all) dimly aware of.
My suggestion, and advice, is to think about what is motivating you next time you’re climbing. Why? Just this: joy is an endless pool, an infinite source. But if you are climbing to get stronger, well, there will always be a harder climb you can’t do, and someone stronger than you. If you climb to get social media followers, there will always be someone whose IG blast gets more hearts than yours. If you climb to make money, someone else will always make more money doing it. If you climb to tell stories, someone else’s story will always be more harrowing, more interesting, and more noticed.
But if you climb for joy, my suspicion is that you’ll never face those problems. You don’t compare one joy to another. You don’t get jealous of someone else’s joy. You don’t dream of next time just having a little more joy than this time. Joy is pure, it is boundless, and it is indescribable. It is sitting in the alpenglow as your friend starts up the first pitch, it is basking in the sunset at the top of the wall, it is sharing a PB+J on a perfect belay ledge. Joy is whatever joy is to you: sending a boulder problem, whipping huge, fighting an OW, doing 25 laps on the campus board. Whatever.
Joy is special because there is only one rubric for it that matters – and that is your own. My advice is that you consider your reasons for climbing, and if you find that they are not leading to more joy, you simply stop doing it for those reasons. If trad’s not doing it for you, quit forcing it. If leading makes you feel nauseous, even in that fuzzy warm aftermath of surviving a harrowing experience, then TR. If pushing into 5.12 or 5.13 or 5.9 or 5.whatever makes you hate yourself, stick to grades that make you smile.
My suspicion is that if we can do that, we’ll find climbing becoming as joyful and wonderful as it was to our younger selves when we first discovered the sport. My guess is that we’ll find it more and more difficult to open car doors. My hunch is that you’ll find yourself more and more often smiling like a 14 year old girl, and that in the end, that’s exactly where we all ought to be.