Lessons in Stone

Once upon a time I was a rock climber, every spare minute I had was spent caressing stone with my fingers and feet. Each year I gained strength and improved technique and slowly but surely became better, a little more graceful and fluid.

Often I was to be found in a valley in North Wales called the Llanberis Pass, it is my Mecca and if you see me kneeling and facing East you will know why; I am prostrating myself to the memory of a youth well spent, of excitement, vitality and a tribe of misfits who described an incredible dance amongst spires and monoliths. Truly, this was an inspiring time and place that spawned art, literature, teachers and leaders and I am forever grateful for my involvement.

The “Pass” is a majestic haven, rock walls sprout each and every way; covered in colorful specks, linked by rainbow lines and emitting the echoing call of “watch me”. At the bottom of the valley are some boulders, these also have a colorful history involving dynamite and a desire to build a road but that is not part of this story. For ten years I came often to the boulders, I warmed up there if going up to the cliffs and I was happy to spend a whole day there if alone, alternating between hanging off the smallest holds I could pull on and lying in the stream to cool off. During those ten years I approached a particular boulder problem and was spat out, failing to gain even a few feet. It haunted me, I watched others do it and wanted it to be me grasping that final hold but each time all I realized was failure.

Then one day I read a book called Performance Rock Climbing, it is a wonderful training book and there were two things that really spoke to me. The authors suggested that you train your weaknesses and play to your strengths and they taught the art of visualization.

A few days later I was back, I put on my shoes about to throw myself at the problem again when I stopped and thought about what I had read. Off came the shoes and I sat down in the dirt looking up at the problem. What were my strengths? I looked at that piece of rock with new eyes, each hold was a piece of a jigsaw. Where I had once tried to pull on small crimps, I recognized that an uncomfortable pocket might work well with my ability to undercut. My sausage fingers were not so suited to the crystal edges but with momentum might give me sufficient purchase to latch something a little more substantial above. I then closed my eyes and pictured myself holding that final hold and I filled myself with the sensations I had felt when winning a recent race.

Methodically I put on my shoes again and tightened the laces, I stood up and the rest was a blur. 20 seconds later I was on top. Ten years and 20 seconds. Was anything different? Was I stronger? Had my technique improved?

Ultimately, I was still the same person that I was before reading the book, what had changed was the way I thought about the situation.

I have held on to this lesson. Train your weaknesses, play to your strengths and learn to visualize yourself being successful. The rest takes care of itself.

Originally posted in http://denver.jobing.com/Community_Blog.asp
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3 thoughts on “Lessons in Stone

  1. Thanks for the comment. There is no secret in climbing – just do it more – when you are tired and having to keep it together – that is when you truly learn.

    Good luck


  2. hey wil,
    thanks for the heads up! I’ll check it out! it’s great to break out of your own bounderies and look at things that were once impossible with understanding eyes!

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