I was climbing with a friend on Tahquitz in Idyllwild a few weeks ago and we were talking about personal climbing progression. He didn’t say it outright, but I felt like he was gauging his performance with mine, despite my being twenty-five years younger and bordering on becoming a full-time climbing dirtbag. I mean seriously, I climb over a hundred pitches a week and he may have climbed twenty or so this year.
I was bouldering with some friends recently who were laughing about how I was smearing my feet on nothing holds to get up the granite problems. It caused me to think back to the conversation I had about progression. We all started around the same time. I see no reason to try and compare climbing success, but progress is reasonable. I guess I look at their lives similarly as they may look at my climbing. They are extremely disciplined and successful and have put in tons of time into developing well rounded healthy lives. They are out there on the grind everyday crushing in life. It’s not that they are better at life than I am, but that they’ve invested in it. I’ve invested in climbing.
I have a friend who just finished his van build who crushes on rock. Instead of getting down on myself because how much harder he climbs than I do I just get super inspired. He is teaching me without his knowing it. He climbs hard because he dedicates his life to it. He is out there everyday. He’s finding ways to make it work.
I started climbing later in life, especially compared with the gym climbers today who start before they can walk. I will never try to gauge myself with them because my life just took a different path. I had different opportunities available during my developing stages of life. I can’t just be like, “man, look at that 13 year old sending 5.12d… I suck!” That’s unrealistic.
I really started to progress when I got hooked on climbing last summer. I did my first alpine climb–the East Buttress of Mount Whitney–made my first trip to Yosemite Valley, which was soon followed by a second, third and fourth, went out and did some more alpine climbing in Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Tuolumne, and spent the majority of the summer living in vans and out of tents. I dedicated my life to climbing and I got way better.
Meanwhile, while I was blowing through my life savings chasing a dream, my friends were back home being mature adults and maintaining their lives and relationships. I was driving a Saturn that was being held together by cordelette and superglue, neglecting my relationships and accepting unemployment.
I have my eyes set on climbs which were established by the best climbers in the world. These climbers dedicated the majority of their lives to the progression of free climbing. I get shut down and I’m like… “I suck!” I don’t suck. When these climbs were first established they were the hardest in the world and progressed our view of what was possible. I’m comparing myself with people who were masters of the sport and dedicated their entire lives to it. It’s just as unrealistic as my friends trying to compare their climbing to mine. It’s got nothing to do with talent. It’s a numbers game. Okay, maybe a little talent. However talented one might be though, they won’t go far without putting in the work. All of us know somebody like that… if only they’d just apply themselves. They often don’t.
My point is this: whatever you want to do in life, if you plan on being good it will require a ton of time and effort. With something like climbing, the amount of time and effort required likely involves some serious life changes. You want to be a Valley climber? You better spend a full season or two or three or more in Yosemite Valley. Want to be a hardcore desert climber? Stay in Moab or Red Rock for a month or two or three or more. Make it work.
You want to be good at something? Then do what you did when you started building your life.
Make it a lifestyle.