2.21.2013

Backtracking

 I am a hypocrite. I've known this for some time. I suspect that everyone, from time to time, doubles back on something they've said or some resolution they've made. C'est la vie, I suppose. But anyway, apropos to that, this post is climbing related and probably stands out in a climbing blog aggregator as boldly as would a different shade of ceiling paint. Maybe that's alright: as a rule, not everything can be exciting and innovative or it would be like a chain grocery where everything is always 'on sale', meaning nothing ever is really on sale. Was that simile top-heavy enough? Good. Onwards.

LA owns everything; it even owns you



 In keeping with the spirit of my recent rant about how shitty and boring climbing blogs are, I will endeavor to frame this post in a more flattering light, hopefully providing some mystical insight into life, the world, the universe; anything to give this bloated depository of bric-à-brac one iota of reason for existing. In reality, the post might be boring but it has a lot of pictures. The carrot with the stick, I say, or something like that.

The geology here is intensely interesting
 Three weeks ago I sprained one of my fingers. This injury, that I've come to know so intimately, is always a setback. There's no secret shortcut through or around that fact. Weeks of resting and then months of chronic swelling and a high risk of reinjury are the realities, at least if I want to continue climbing. A reduction in stress on the injury is important. That said, after about three weeks of downtime I have begun climbing again. I definitely can't claim to be doing rehab that is absolutely optimal. I have, however, shifted focus from harder problems that tend to have aggressive holds that I can't use right now to taller problems that are easier but scary. Some of them aren't really that easy, either--oh well.

So, it follows that the real topic here is not injury but fear. Climbing and fear is a topic I've almost certainly written about before. For some, risk and its associated response, fear, are unwanted intrusions in climbing. Bouldering and sport climbing are avenues through which climbing can be pursued with relatively little risk and, in turn, far less fear than types of climbing that have true objective hazards and require far more attention towards safety. They appeal, I would think, to the largest number of climbers because of this accessibility. Of course, one can easily blur the line in bouldering by climbing high off the ground; sport climbing, however, is by definition 'safe' if all other risks, like flipping upside down during a fall or a bad belayer, are considered equal. Some of us seek to cultivate an actual fear response more often than others. In climbing, though managing fear is necessary globally within the activity, specific types of climbing like climbing at height without a rope require far more focus in this category.


I think all of us thrive on some level of fear and the sense of power gained via our response to it. In a way, this jives with the way we're wired to adapt to new stimuli. If things are too safe and familiar, we don't make adaptations and can't improve. Not that we always need to improve, but I think it's pretty well established that our mental and physical health are somewhat dependent on change and adaptation. This can apply to many things, from physical activities to jobs to fine motor skill activities. Without a sense of advancement in many of these arenas, a lot of us feel stagnant or frustrated.

Suspended in Silence is a good introductory tall problem because it gets easier the higher you climb
 With many activities, there are multiple dimensions to skill advancement. With a musical instrument, one can become extremely physically adept at playing while also becoming fluent in music, with said fluency including both rote theoretical learning as well as ear training. In climbing, similarly, both the physical and cerebral sides can and must be developed. Some types of climbing shift the balance between the two. I've always found particular joy in these pursuits. Traditional climbing is a great example of something where gear placement as risk management compounds the challenge, requiring far more ingenuity than if a route were fully bolt protected. That said, if bolts on a bolted route are extremely far apart, a different form of risk management, that of managing fear, comes into play. In a similar way, soloing and 'highball' bouldering, which occupy a spectrum of risk from injury to certain doom, require the management of fear.

In the Buttermilk area of Bishop, the boulders are often tall enough to necessitate switching this fear mitigation on, depending on the nature of the problem being attempted. The most inspiring lines for me on the boulders here tend to be the tall ones. With this thankfully mild finger injury, I've taken to exploring some of the areas that have more of these taller, if easier, lines. I started this journey into the land of fear, really, with Transporter Room on the Grandpa Peabody a full month ago. With moderate climbing but questionable rock 30-35 feet of the ground, it fully caught my attention! More recently, I went to the Pollen Grains area to do a couple of classic tall lines. Suspended in Silence is tall but gets easier the higher you climb, so didn't adequately provoke a fight or flight response. The Beekeeper did simply because each of the holds at the top felt extremely friable. Today I journeyed to the Secrets of the Beehive area, which contains the eponymous tall boulder problem, another tall (and harder problem), Flight of the Bumblebee, and one of Bishop's most difficult lines, The Swarm. The best way to face fear, obviously, is to face it alone, so I went to the area solo with the intention of at least climbing the Secrets of the Beehive problem. It certainly didn't disappoint! Just tall enough to be slightly dangerous and just hard enough at the top to grab the attention, it took a few 'practice' runs and a ten minute meditative break before I convinced myself to forge ahead. Interestingly, I found it extremely hard to calm myself and lower my heart rate enough to climb smoothly. At the final move, a tricky mantle, I found myself doing a delicate, off-balance move. Not too hard, but definitely some good adrenaline to be had!

Secrets of the Beehive is a problem that is tall and a little scary at the top but not all that difficult
I love the feeling of simultaneous control and release during these fight or flight moments, the moments where the chosen fight becomes one of focus and control. Only afterwards is there (and should there be) the release as suppressed panic fades and the effects of adrenaline become particularly edgy. I've never been naturally good at facing fear in climbing but I enjoy it enough to seek it out and have thus gained some modest ability thereof. While climbing a scary route on lead often lends itself to a more chronic, low level sense of fear, high bouldering seems more immediate, sometimes even overwhelming. Most of the time it's easy enough to just jump off and spend some time resetting. That is, unless you've already committed yourself to completing the climb.

Flight of the Bumblebee is a problem that is tall, scary and, from the look of it, at least slightly difficult. The landing zone is pretty treacherous as well
I didn't try Flight of the Bumblebee but I want to. It combines height, difficulty and a pretty terrible blocky landing zone. Why are these sweeping, frighteningly tall lines the most inspiring? I really can't answer that adequately. I guess it comes back to a particular aesthetic and also a desire to push the limits of one's comfort. Tangentially related to bouldering off the deck is this closeup of the upper section of Flight of the Bumblebee:


Just about every tall boulder problem in Bishop features this breach of aesthetics; here is my request: regardless of how scary or difficult (or both) a problem seems, stop leaving these stupid 'goal post' tick marks everywhere. If that's the only way you can remember where the holds are and be comfortable climbing at height, fine: brush the marks off when you're done! These chalk 'ticks' are also drawn on most harder problems when people are too uncoordinated to remember where a hold is at the end of a long move. Here in Bishop, the marks are often three feet long if the move is dynamic. One great example is Stained Glass, which had a three foot 'landing strip' leading to the incredibly obvious finishing hold. Just stop! I brush these off if I can reach them and sometimes even if I can't. The occasional exception is made for tastefully marked footholds which are far less visually offensive to me.

The Swarm is a problem that appears simple and at the same time extremely difficult
 I've said it before, but I think climbing is great because of the different ways the challenge can be balanced. Levels of mental and physical challenge occupy a spectrum that shifts fluidly in its balance, dependent on a number of factors as general as rock type and as specific as what a participant ate for lunch that day and how he or she slept the night before. I've found no other feat of sport that works this way for me. Being able to push into the realm of risk for the purpose of gaining knowledge and experience is an attribute unique to activities like climbing where the challenge is intently personal. The difficulty scale in climbing, though for some an ego-nourishing teat from which the mere concept of being weaned is a veritable psychic poison, is ultimately an approximation of our investment of self into the activity. It is no more a measure of anything truly quantifiable than a review of a piece of art. One could argue that there are specific concrete factors that influence the grade of a climb, but the entire experience cannot be either measured or dictated by the objective difficulty. This is why I've always appreciated the fact that there isn't a score in climbing unless you compete or use it for business purposes, in which case the score or value is a necessary arbitration.

Large, colorful boulders are what define the Buttermilk areas
 On a related tangent, I've often struggled with what to include in a blog post about climbing. There is admittedly a part of me that takes pride in some of the things I do. This isn't bad at all obviously, but the worst kind of writing is the kind that functions as an excuse to self-aggrandize. At times I've done this indirectly in my blog but take pains to ensure it doesn't come across as the main focus. It's easier to be humbled by the abilities of stronger rock climbers, of which there are many, than to make a compelling public case for one's ego to stand on. Finding the 'middle path' through this issue without alienating a blog readership is still a challenge. I guess it's not having many readers nor a whole lot to brag about helps with the issue. In any case, I often try not to include grades in an attempt to shift focus while still including stories about climbs that are important to me for one reason or another regardless of their grade. Hopefully at times the relentless introspection points to the fact that I really love rock climbing; this blog is almost entirely a result of that fact. That and the use of turkeys for sexual gratification in bordellos in pre-industrial Europe, but I digress.

This post is already getting away from me so I'll tighten it up a little bit. Like all areas in Bishop, the Secrets of the Beehive sector is quite beautiful, with picturesque views.







 Though expansive, the area lacks the plethora of boulder problems found in other areas of the Buttermilks. What it lacks in volume, however, it certainly makes up for in magnitude.

Kind of a crap picture, but the profile of the shear 40 foot north wall of the Luminance boulder is stunning
 I think there are five climbs on the Luminance boulder, all serious endeavors. The Golden Rule is a crack climb with some crumbly looking rock at the start and a landing zone into which you must not fall, period! I think Alex Honnold climbed a harder line to the right (Too Big to Flail) with better rock but a definite no-falls landing. There is a Chris Sharma route on the opposite (NW) arête over another bad landing.

Golden Rule looks like a great climb--just so long as none of the crispy looking holds at the beginning break
 The Luminance problem itself is one example of the 'perfect' boulder problem: just enough features on a blank and aesthetic face to make it climbable. 

Luminance is a great looking climb with a vexing landing: the height relative to the ground is what's important in this case!
 Like the other problems on the boulder, the landing is troubling. In this case the ground drops away quickly underneath you as you move higher on the boulder. Swing off too wildly after the second move and you'll miss the small flat platform under the start and pinball into a rocky ravine. Still, the problem is unavoidably tempting. There is also a line around the corner from Luminance called Rise that actually has a flat landing. It's very tall but its upper portion is taken up by a moderate-looking slab: always a positive when weighing the risk on one of these scary lines!


 Though my devotion to rock climbing sometimes wanes and I certainly get tired of it sometimes, there is a still certain magic in working up the boldness to try some of these dicier lines. The reward, of course, is not easily quantifiable nor the justification of risk entirely explicable, but suffice it to say that it's one of those things that speaks for itself--if you're into that kind of thing, that is.









2 comments:

  1. I happened upon this quote from Edmund Burke,an 18th century philosopher,in a footnote in a book I'm reading. The quote is from Burke's "Philosophical Enquiry into Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful." Burke wrote: "Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible...is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling."

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  2. I really think it's part of our heritage as creatures that have spent the last 150k-200k years in our current form and 5 or 6 millions of years in previous evolutionary incarnations responding to, interacting with and ultimately attempting to dominate our environment. Nietzsche was right about us all along.

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