We really couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather this weekend in Kentucky. In the day, we enjoyed a cool 70 degrees climbing in the shade, and in the evening, slept well in temperatures in the low 60s. It was, to belabor my point, simply perfect.
One of the reasons I’ve never fully articulated about why I love climbing is the sense of camaraderie and support that I haven’t felt in other sports. Climbing can be a competitive sport, but in most instances the person you’re competing with is really yourself. This point hit home when climbing this weekend: even whilst concentrating on my moves, I could clearly hear the constant stream of encouragement from down below. “Nice footwork! Good job, that was awesome!” When I failed to stick to a move, the barrage of encouragement was even stronger. “Oooh! Almost, come on, you can do it!” No matter if someone took a longer time to complete a route; we’d all been down the same path before, we’d all been afforded the same courtesy and patience to try, try, and try again until we independently decide to abort the route. And even then, only after the belayer has exhorted a couple more attempts. “Are you sure? Come on, one more try!” No matter if we really wanted to give it a go ourselves, but were running out of time. If someone was on the wall, we extended our full support.
And then, there’s the trust. In a dangerous sport like climbing, trust is paramount. All too often, we take for granted the implicit faith others place in us. But when you put somebody on belay, the fact is that that person’s life is now in your hands, and he has given you his trust. I thought I’d be nervous when I cleaned the anchors and rappelled down, but my belayer Gretchen turned out to be even more anxious than I was. She was visibly tense as she put me on fireman’s anchor when I removed my safety slings to prepare for the rappel, and was clearly relieved when I finally touched the ground. How can you not feel a sense of affinity with the person who has placed his confidence in you? Plus, it’s hard not to forge a bond with your fellow climbers post-climbing, hunched over a steaming bowl of baked rice washed down with a bottle of wine, as you reminisce about the day’s climb.