The human nature of climbing

From one of my favorite climbing blogs, an exploration of the naming and identification of rock climbs:

Who would have the guts to create a new climbing area without names?

“What’s this route called?” a visitor might ask.

“Well, it’s the third one from the left,” the local would reply.

“How hard is it?” the visitor would counter.

“It’s as hard as it is. Why don’t you give it a try?”

It sounds pretty good to me, at least in theory. What do you think? And what do you think it is we’re naming when we give a problem or route a name?

It sounds pretty good to me too, at least in theory. There’s an appeal to the raw experience of climbing, unfettered by labels or abstractions. Movement itself can be immensely satisfying. And cooperating with friends to discover and create beta is one of the best sorts of climbing experiences. I’ve spent hundreds of hours bouldering on made-up problems at the base of my local toproping area — nothing is named or graded, and that’s perfect because we’re just climbing.

But, everything in moderation. Humans are inherently egotistical, competitive, and social creatures. Applying labels to our conquests is just what we do. Competing against our peers is also what we do. It’s part of our essence as humans. Taken to the extreme, those tendencies can be counterproductive and dangerous. But in moderation, they satisfy the primal urges that thousands of years of evolution has embedded into our species.

For some climbers, the experience of movement over rock is enough. Others obsess over names and grades. Most of us eventually find a balance between the two, knowing that both complement our enjoyment of this meaningless and meaningful sport.

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The entry The human nature of climbing was posted on October 25, 2013

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