In the video, I begin climbing swiftly along a v5 boulder problem that travels from the right of the wall to the left. Along the way, I piston myself up on a coiled leg and snatch a moderate sloper, then transition along several less forgiving crimps and into the corner of the wall; at this point, I am able to snag what my friend and I jokingly referred to as a “v4 rest,” a position from which one’s head can be tucked into the wall’s roof section, their legs awkwardly splayed across the wall and arms alternatingly shaking out. From this point forward, there is no more even temporarily satiating rest.
After the shake-out, the climb continues along the roof portion of the wall, tiny crimps and a sloper offering a path my cousin analogized to monkey bars. Both this and the preceding portion of the climb are lead style, of course, and so throughout the entirety the climber clips a rope into anchors; at certain junctures, clipping comprises the majority of the difficulty.
Following this second, closer-to-v6 difficulty portion of the climb, there is an even more precarious resting point–v5 rest, perhaps–and then the climb closes out through the ultimate, daunting section. At this point, even mediocre crimps disappear and are replaced by scant ones, and the final few moves become a balancing act, the climber toggling and flagging out legs in order to counterbalance weight. With a final, harrowing reach, the climber, in this case me, snatches the final hold, and then all that’s left is to yank up the reminder of the rope and clip into the culminating anchors.
Here, you can see a video of my completing this climb, the first 5.13 difficulty level I had ascended on lead.
. . .
I bring up this climb because it has begun to serve as a metaphor for other endeavors in my life, other arduous tasks which can be perfected, even executed effortlessly, but only after a certain combination of inspiration, practice, and paradoxically, giving up and indifference. In this case, although my final ascent makes the climb look easy, I in fact had practiced it no doubt dozens of times.
At first, the climb flummoxed me, and even the bottom section stood as an impasse I might be unable to navigate. As I declared to a friend upon regarding the opening moves, “It’s impossible;” I am no stranger to making this same declaration in myriad parallel scenarios.
Then, slowly and with friends, I made headway, and the moves started to become streamlined. Tricks were discovered, such as the v4 rest; in other cases, sections needed to be differentiated to the climber, and friends would recommend something to me and I would try it, then discard it. For example, in the monkey bar section prior to the v5 rest, my friend would clip from the sloper; that didn’t work for me, and I preferred to clip from the second crimp.
The climb started to come together, and at one point only the crux move posed a challenge–here again, I deemed the move impossible. Then, only the final section stumped me–I was too tired by the time I reached it, and attempt after attempt I would fall off on the third-to-last, penultimate, or final move.
Frustration set in here, and there exists another video of my falling off the final move, shouting to a crowded gym that I “hate[d]” the climb, hated it “so much.” “God dammit!” I emphasized. At this point, no joy remained in the climb; I did it only because I felt I somehow needed to, as some sort of collective challenge which had become a personal one, then had calcified into a tool of self-flagellation.
I gave up. Proudly and for the sake of self-love, I told friends and family I would no longer be attempting the climb, that I had learned from it all I needed and that there was nothing further to gain. Knowing the gym’s schedule, I believed the climb would soon be reset, anyway, and I was taking a trip out of the state for a professional opportunity and did not expect the climb to remain when I returned. Importantly, my mind was on other things.
When I returned from my trip, to my surprise the climb was still up in the gym, and in a moment of inspiration I decided to climb it again. “Sure, what the hell,” was the attitude; I had no expectations of victory, only a curiosity at what would happen if I made a successive attempt; although my cousin was with me, I did not even know I was being filmed. The resulting video is the one above, the one of my successfully completing the climb.
As I suggested earlier, I believe this entire saga conveys a sequence of practices we must make in order to succeed at anything, one which contains an important paradox. Firstly, there is the initial inspiration; the thing stands out as a beacon of achievement, and we are both daunted and intrigued; perhaps there is frustration, and at some point or various points we believe we cannot do it. Then, there is a period of practice, one that in my case was communal as well as individual; what are some techniques others have tried when they’ve succeeded, or even if they’ve failed? Which ones work for me? Which seem reserved for others? Finally, there is an inner listening to one’s own growth threshold, to one’s ability to gain from the endeavor for certain periods, but also to reach a limit of that process; if that limit is persuasively reached, the task should be abandoned. Finally, the learning having been internalized, the attachment having been relinquished, the endeavor can be conducted in the perfect manner: with skill, purely for joy, and with ease.
And this is the greatest paradox of all: precisely when we truly want something, that is when our striving prevents our having it.