I am continuing to recover from my hip injury, which was probably an injury in some capacity to my rectus femoris tendon. It’s very tender at the spot where it inserts into the anterior inferior iliac spine.
The injuries as of late have encouraged me to take a closer look at what I want out of bouldering. Not that you have to have an answer for this question, but in my case I think it will help me move forward in a way that minimizes injury and maximizes physical and spiritual enjoyment. Because that’s what bouldering is for me at its zenith: spiritual. My ascent a couple weeks ago of Dirty Dancing V4 certainly felt spiritual, being alone at the boulders, on a cold, windy Monday morning at 7:30am, warming up on a reachy V2, saying to myself, “I’m just going to see if I can pull on,” and then moving up, up, up on the thin edges of Dirty Dancing, finally grabbing the big jugs about halfway up, hauling myself into the scoop. It felt spiritual as I sat there on top of the boulder, in somewhat of a fetal position, listening to the wind. And of course it felt spiritual while climbing the boulder problem itself, as if with each raising of the foot the ground disappeared beneath me.
The injuries have pushed me to explore the spiritual side of bouldering and also to lessen my focus on grades. Read almost ANY article on “Bouldering for Beginners” or “How to Get Started in Bouldering” and you’ll find an author almost yelling at you to “not focus on grades.” I’d read this over and over but never really been convinced. If I want to focus on grades, I thought, I’m going to focus on grades. I’m not going to listen to some jackass who writes climbing articles for Gripped. It’s not like I climb for him, anyway. I climb for me.
But did I really climb for me?
This is where things get tricky with grades.
I’d argue that most of the time when you’re climbing for a certain grade, or at least a decent amount of the time, you’re not climbing for yourself. You’re climbing because of how you look in other people’s eyes, so you can tell people you climbed V5, so you can tell yourself you climbed V5, so you can look at other people who are only climbing V4 and think, Fuck yeah, I used to be one of them. Now I climb V5.
Just to be clear, I don’t see a huge problem with this. There are worse things in the world. There are greater injustices. But FOR ME PERSONALLY, this approach has led to dissatisfaction and, more importantly, injury.
You could climb V10 tomorrow, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your experience will be impactful. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll grow (spiritually, emotionally) because of the experience. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you climbed “well.” As I progress on my climbing journey, I’m becoming more interested in climbing “well.” This means having good technique, this means that it feels good to climb, like I’m moving efficiently, like I’m in harmony with the holds and the rock. It’s more of a yin approach to bouldering, instead of the yang approach that is sometimes adopted. You’re letting the rock and the conditions and everything else dictate how you climb, and you’re responding to that and using it to your best possible advantage (which might mean on a given day that you may touch the starting holds of a climb and not even pull on at all). This is in contrast to the yang approach, where you’re trying to dominate the rock, wrestle it into submission. It is possible to do this. It’s possible to even derive pleasure from this. But for me, it’s not a sustainable approach, since granite is generally harder than soft tissue, and after several attempts at trying to dominate a V5 dyno, when your body is whispering to stop, take it easy, we’re done, and the universe is telling you to stop, put it on hold, come back another time, you strain your rectus femorus.
And then you can’t really climb for a month, at which point: Why not focus on technique? Why not focus on moving well? Why not see if you can derive just as much satisfaction from a V1 as you can from a V3 or a V4? Or even climbing your first V5?
I know it’s cliche and I know it’s hard advice to follow, but if you focus on moving well, on process goals, on feeling good climbing, grades will probably come. I don’t want to say they WILL come, because they kind of promise can never be made, and also because if you’re only trying to move well or focus on process goals to get a certain grade then you’re kind of missing the point. The ultimate goal for bouldering for me is for it to be a sort of moving meditation. This is bouldering at its most wonderful for me. When I approach the rock and all else disappears. When I am suddenly seared into the present moment, and things slow down. I notice the way the sun hits a particular part of the rock, or the way a leaf quivers in the breeze, or the way a cloud looks in the sky. And then when I’m on the rock my body is moving in harmony with it. Yes, great physical exertion may occur, but only where necessary. There is an element of play involved. And in fact this is something I should’ve mentioned much earlier in this post. Play is so important in bouldering, and in life in general. It feels good to play with the movement, and that’s how you really learn. You tinker. What would happen if I put my right foot up really high? What would happen if I engaged my thumb more? What would happen if I took off my shirt and screamed during the crux?
And so I try to focus on these things, the things I can still focus on regardless of injury. And I find that by focusing on these things my experience of bouldering becomes enriched, and I become a better climber. I’ll probably climb harder grades, but that won’t be the point. Or at least I hope it won’t. These things are never completely cut and dry, and there’s always some wavering back and forth. Which is fine. All part of the journey.